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.
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.
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.
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…
*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:
Attend meetings of the Council.
Help decide service priorities and participate in agreeing and setting a budget.
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.