They Work For Us

The plan was hatched to submit two parallel Freedom of Information requests – one asking about the attendance record at full @lambeth_council meetings of our democratically elected representatives, and then a secondary request asking about how much in allowances our good Councillors have trousered.

The filthy wonga issue is already out there on the public record. The @lambeth_council website sets out the maximum amount that each Councillor is entitled to claim.

My FOI was more concerned with knowing if all Councillors actually claimed the full amount, and if so, what do we get in return?

The rather non-news story coming out of this prolonged procedure (missed legal deadlines from @lambeth_counicl in responding to the FOI’s) is that yep – *most* Councillors are rather decent at democracy, and yep – *all* Councillors play the system to their financial benefit.

Wouldn’t you?

My interest in full council meetings is that I believe that this is the bedrock of local democracy. Ten meetings are held each political year. The debate is placed on the record, and it is the one time where the electorate can actually see what work their representative in their local ward is actually doing.

I accept that to gauge the effectiveness of a local Councillor via an attendance record is a slightly flawed analysis. Still, if you can’t be arsed to turn up less than once a month, then I really can’t see why you deserve my vote.

And so after waiting for @lambeth_council to legally comply with the FOI’s, the data finally dropped this morning and I fired up Excel.

Bugger that.

I’ve got better things to do (um, ironing…) than fiddle around with a spreadsheet all morning and provide a graphical analysis of attendance linked in with wonga.

I simply present the data as it is provided. It’s not difficult for you to find out your own #hyperlocal interests. A list of Councillors for each ward can be found over here, also detailing which political party they represent.

It is my understanding that the figures quoted are the actual allowances paid, rather than simply the amount each Councillor is entitled to claim. This is a crucial difference. I phrased the question deliberately, with this in mind:

Please could you tell me the annual allowances paid to each elected local Councillor for the past financial year?

The self-proclaimed “third hardest working Councillor,” @LambethLabour‘s Councillor Morgan of Prince’s ward / um, Orpington, claimed his full allowance of £10,599, despite only attending 50% of full council meetings.

Likewise for Councillor Akhtar, the Labour representative for Stockwell, and the Councillor with the worst attendance record in the borough (40%)

Councillor Morgan has explained his non-attendance at full council meetings by stating:

On five occasions I had other events I had to attend. However Lorna and / or Mark were able to attend and represent the people of Princes Ward in my absence.

It’s good that the residents of Prince’s ward always had some form of representation at full council, but an empty seat in the council chamber still doesn’t quite justify to me the claiming of a full allowance.

On the point of Councillor Campbell, I note that she has been unwell towards the back end of this political year. This explains her 50% attendance record at full council.

I accept that this might also be the case for other elected representatives, and I welcome any instances of this being placed on record.

I would like to also put on record the woeful level of allowance awarded to Councillor Wellbelove, the Mayor of Lambeth. A £10,599 basic annual allowance, and then only a further £15,954 special responsibility allowance.

To speak outside of council chamber etiquette – Mr Mayor has worked his arse off this year. His overall allowance is less than Councillor Smith, whose special responsibility allowance for chairing the Planning Applications Committee is £16,356, plus his basic allowance of £10,599.

I have no particular issue over the work or allowance of Councillor Smith. I do think that Mr Mayor is worth a hell of a lot more though.

Overall and the allowances seem more or less appropriate to me. A cabinet member can trouser £39,117 in total. This pretty makes the work of a cabinet member a full time job. There are many responsibilities with holding this office, but my fear is that the high level of the allowance will attract career politicians.

The answer of course is in the ballot box. If you don’t like the allowance claimed by your local Councillor, or even their lack of availability at full council meetings – boot them out.

Or even stand yourself…

*full pdf’s for attendance and allowances are available to download if the data below is giving you something of a local authority headache*

*15:30 edit on 20th April:

…the ever helpful Tim Stevens, the Democratic Services Manager at Lambeth Council, has come back to me with some more documentation. In particular my attention has been drawn to Constitution Part 6 of the Members Allowance Scheme.

Setting out the Key Duties of elected officials, the constitution states:

Councillors will:

Attend meetings of the Council.

Help decide service priorities and participate in agreeing and setting a budget.

Blimey.

Which all seems to suggest to me that attendance at full council meetings is more or less part of the job description. 40%, or even 50% Councillors just aren’t good enough.

As for setting the budget – I wish I had taken a register at the budget setting full council meeting back in February. The council chamber was half-empty, with missing Councillors from all three parties.

Allowances

Allowances

Attendance

Attendance

Attendance

4 thoughts on “They Work For Us

  1. Jason – just wanted to say, great post. Glad someone is keeping tabs. I shall remember this in the ballot box on May 6th.

  2. While I’m thinking about it, two analogies:

    1) I used to run a public company; the sort that has a board of directors and shareholders, and an annual meeting at which said shareholders are asked to re-elect the board. It is a statutory requirement for the Annual Report of public companies to list the number of board meetings that each of the directors has attended during the year. The presumption being that the shareholders might want to not re-elect a director with a poor attendance record. This means that in most companies, missing a board meeting is a big deal. Directors literally cross continents to attend often very dull meetings.

    A director who missed half of all meetings would certainly not seek re-election.

    2) I am a school governor. At each meeting we note apologies received by absentees. The attending governors can choose to either accept or to not accept these apologies. If a governor is absent without reason, we cannot accept an apology. If this happens two terms in a row, the other governors have the power to retire them from the governing body and elect a new governor in their place. This isn’t automatic – discretion is applied – but the power is used.

    What a shame that serial absenteeism doesn’t forfeit council seats and trigger a by-election in much the same way.

    These are basic principles of good governance that are observed in the private and the public spheres. But not, apparently, by our elected leaders.

  3. Green councillor Becca Thackray has turned up for 9 out of 10 meetings and she has to work alone without any of the resources that being a member of a group entitles you to. Becca has been a hard working councillor who tried to get Lambeth Labour to grant all sub contractors a London Living Wage but the motion was blocked by the Reed administration who obviously feel intensely relaxed about low paid workers in Lambeth.

  4. It’s fantastic that this blog takes so much interest in local government and must go a long way in keeping some of the more indigent councillors honest.

    However I think it’s slightly unfair that you lay in to councillors for not all attending full council. With the Cabinet system of government that operates in Lambeth the average backbench councillor appears to has very little say over what happens to the policies voted on. Personally I find it surprising that so many cllrs turn up at all.

    Also considering that so few members of the public, besides valiant stalwarts such as yourself, take any interest in these meetings I again find it surprising that so many cllrs bother to attend.

    Perhaps if the meetings were recorded and podcast more might feel it worth attending?

    And one more minor note. I agree that Mayor Wellbelove is seemingly superhuman in the efforts he has put in on behalf of the community. However don’t denigrate Cllr Smith’s role on the planning committee. This is one of the most time-consuming and delicate of all committees requiring a lot of effort, experience and energy to participate in. So many things have nearly gone horribly wrong for the community regarding planning apps that in some ways I think it’s the most important one after the Cabinet. I think its fair that someone who is spending so many evenings and weekends is compensated given, the cost to their personal lives and career development that they will inevitably suffer as a result.

    Keep up the good work Jason. Your blog has brought a lot of fresh air to local politics

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