Friday 22 May 2009

Ending the Barnet Gravy Train

It would not be an exaggeration to say that public confidence in politicians is at an all time low. The continuing revelations about MPs expenses is damaging the very fabric of our democracy.

But MPs do not have a monopoly for claiming excessive allowances and regular readers will know that Not The Barnet Times has highlighted numerous instances where senior Conservative councillors have received substantial payments for, frankly, not very much in return.

At the annual meeting of the council on Tuesday, Labour councillor Geof Cooke sought the necessary constitutional permission to move a motion on allowances which was not on the agenda. Unfortunately, a majority of councillors voted not to allow him to do so. This was his motion:

“Council notes the damage that has been caused to the political system by the parliamentary expenses saga in this country.

Council believes that, in the light of this crisis, members of this council should set an example and so Council resolves that the Independent Panel should be convened as soon as possible to consider a cap on overall councillors’ allowances, including the re-introduction of the cap on individuals claiming multiple Special Responsibility Allowances.

Council also asks Cabinet to lobby government for a change in the law to allow members' allowances in local government to be set by an Independent Panel, so that politicians are not deciding their own remuneration.”

Mike Freer, leader of the council, has said that the new Mayor of Barnet, Brian Coleman, will give the opposition parties “a fair crack of the whip.”

He could demonstrate this by ensuring that Cllr Cooke’s motion is the first item on the agenda at the next council meeting.


Anonymous said...

With no sarcasm intended Geof Cooke is one of the few Councillors who was once out of touch with the public mood and has learned the lesson.

His proposed motion does seem well intentioned and chimes with the public mood. Barnet's Councillors are paid way, way too much for what their roles entail.

However the proposal to pass matters back to the 'Independent' Panel for reconsideration, as currently constituted, is preposterous.

This panel by it's public reports have, in my view, demonstrated it's ignorance of the role and work of Councillors. The only evidence it seems to take are from the Council's Officers, members of the public or voluntary groups are blocked from contributing.

It's meetings are then held in secret without any public notice. I object to this as I want to know how they make their decisions and, as a former Councillor who takes an interest in these matters, I would welcome the opportunity to offer evidence and challenge some of their more peculiar recommendations.

And, in my view, as a final blow to any notion of rigorous independence they hold the meetings in Jeff Lustig's office!

A new panel needs to be set up of between 6 and 10 people, some former Councillors included within the restrictions, with it's own administrative and research support from *outside* the Council. They should start from scratch and discover what is going on. This should cut the bill for Councillors expenses by at least half saving £500,000+ a year so whatever the cost of servicing this review will be recouped quickly.

Let's see if the Councillors can get on top of this issues before it swamps them ahead of the election.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Whether the independent panel is really independent or not is a separate issue to the question as to why Barnet councillors are allowed to stack up their Special Responsibility Allowances. This doesn’t happen elsewhere and it didn’t happen here until recently. The Conservative group actually pushed through changes which had not been agreed by the independent panel which allowed the leader to pick up an additional SRA.