Increase in councillor pay might help diversify council away from being predominantly ‘middle aged men’
Councillors have come out in favour of a pay rise – although would prefer it to be smaller – amid fears poor pay could limit the candidate pool of those wanting to take on the role.
In a month that has seen three cancelled scrutiny meetings, along with two recent meetings that only considered their work programmes for a matter of minutes (a situation that sees no equivalent deductions in pay for the chairs) councillors met yesterday to discuss pay rises.
Councillor Rondo Roberts was chairman of the meeting due to apologies from Cllr King, Cllr Warburton and Cllr Baldwin.
Wrexham Council publish meeting attendance data for your councillors (you can view it here) which shows what meetings councillors are expected at, and if they attended it. Cllr David Maddocks has the lowest percentage attendance of ‘expected’ v ‘present’, with several having 100% records Cllrs Cameron, Atkinson, David A Bithell, Evans, Mark Pritchard, Prince and King.
As always with statistics there are several ways to view it, as some councillors with 100% records have attended 5 out of 5 meetings, whereas Cllr Beverley Parry-Jones has a 96% attendance rate but attended 31 out of 30 meetings.
Like cancelled meetings, not attending meetings also sees no reduction in pay for absent councillors.
The meeting was told that councillor pay is thought to equate to around three days work a week, with many who were present explaining they and others do far more than that. Cllr Parry-Jones invited anyone who was skeptical of the workload to shadow her to see her work and described it as a 24 hour seven day a week role.
In contrast to previous meetings of the democratic services committee, councillors appeared in favour of a rise although around the £270 mark rather than the proposed £350. In the past there has been clear pushback against any rises at all. Previous rises have seen senior salaries increase, whereas the proposal this year is just the basic pay getting an uplift.
Cllr John McCusker was firm in his view that councillors should do what they like with any pay rise, stating: “I think we kicked this to death last year. I feel any independent review panel that is offered to us, we just accept.
“Some people here it is their only income. It is totally up to them as individuals. I don’t think it should be up for discussion.”
Cllr Dana Davies said the 2.5% rise was not fair, comparing the figure to average public sector pay increases, with others on the committee also forming up her suggestion of a more reasonable 2% figure.
Cllr McCusker explained he was unhappy with a percentage being used, pointing out that although the £350 rise is 2.5% for the basic pay increase, it is a much smaller percentage increase for those on more eg. leader of the council who will be on £49,450 , deputy leader who will be on £34,950 and executive board members who will be on £30,450.
Cllr Derek Wright added “without this it will prevent people from becoming councillors”, a view formed after viewing a video apparently from the IRPW that has councillors and others talking about pay. The video appears to have been shared with some members of the committee but not all, and does not appear to be public.
He said: “I changed my mind completely after seeing that video.
“Who are we to say they should not be adequately paid for it, or have an inflationary rise to go with it?”
Cllr Alan Edwards spoke of the large amount of work councillors do, and wanted to see a higher rise in pay as he feared the council was ‘losing’ possible candidates.
Referring to a large number of ‘middle aged men’ on the council he warned that a pay rise was needed to enable younger people to ‘come through’. (Cllr Edwards in the Independent group, Wrexham Council’s biggest political group, which is made up 18 men, we would not wish to speculate on their average age.)
Suggesting the gap between basic councillor pay and senior pay could be closed to help solve that problem Cllr Edwards added the funding of the extra pay could be via freezing the senior pay or even cutting the Executive Board.
Cllr Debbie Wallice said she had concerns based around residents complaining about pay rises, and told the committee she would not be taking the pay rise due to ‘personal feelings’ and ‘budget cuts’.
Mayor of Wrexham, councillor Rob Walsh branded the debate as ‘groundhog day’ saying ‘we can not influence this’.
Cllr Walsh went onto say: “This is a local press story.
“We have the issue with too many people perhaps read the headline from the story and feel we are deciding to give ourselves a pay rise which is not the case at all.”
“It is not our choice.”
Cllr Rob Walsh says ‘this is a local press story’ on pay, says people just see headline and think Cllrs make their own decisions on it. We challenge Cllr Walsh to tell us what happens if the pay report isn’t noted – Labour+Plaid voted against it, what happens if that is majority?
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) November 7, 2019
Perhaps following our tweets or by coincidence, Cllr Walsh asked: “If we decide no, we disagree with all this and it is absolutely wrong we are not going to note the report what would happen? Am I right in thinking things will happen as they are anyway?”.
The officer replied advising as per the non-decision making committee they were in, that the IRPW is asking all councils for comment by the middle of December. The officer reassured that any feedback from the committee would be listened to by the IRPW, citing previous feedback being taken on board.
Cllr Walsh did not ask what would happen in full council if the report was not noted by councillors.
After the meeting we asked Cllr Walsh and Cllr Davies about what happens in Full Council with ‘noting’ the pay report. Back in April last year Cllr Davies’ Labour Group voted against the pay report being noted saying at the time “The Labour Group believe that in noting the report we are agreeing with the determinations made by the IRPW“.
Cllr Walsh explained it was a case of waiting until full council to revisit that point, adding it was unheard of for a council to vote against it.
Cllr Davies pondered what would happen if a number of councils across Wales voted against noting such pay reports, and what powers the IRPW would have to impose on local authorities pointing out their role is to support the democratic process – a process that itself that would be used to reject it in that scenario.
It appears the question of what happens if the noting of the pay report at full council is voted against remains unanswered.
The final determination (importantly it is *not* a recommendation) from the IRPW will likely go before council in the new year.
Despite many on the committee branding the feedback to the IRPW a ‘waste of time’, the committee will be feeding back their thoughts on councillor pay, with a 2% rise preferred.
Yesterday’s meeting was not webcast, however you can view it below via our video.
Several seconds of the meeting are muted, by our choice, you can see this at 1hr 22mins in. Cllr Edwards was talking about councillors looking after parents on an agenda item on care costs being paid. Cllr Edwards spoke about one councillor, not in Wrexham, in named and specific terms. Cllr Dana Davies pointed out the problem and requested the name/detail was not put out publicly.
Cllr Edwards then spoke about the need for confidentiality when discussing such issues.
No permission was requested to film the meeting as since rule changes in May no one has to. Thankfully for Cllr Edwards we were recording the meeting rather than streaming it, and thus able to stop another person and their personal circumstances being named to the wider world.
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