Sunday, 22 January 2012

Why some turkeys might vote for Christmas

The recent excitement over councillors who struggle to pay their council tax because, allegedly, they try to serve their constituents on a full-time basis for only £12,000 a year has come at the same time as the launch of yet another review to decide on an appropriate allowance, post next year's elections.

So for the next 12 months we can expect more tedious grand-standing and juvenile parading of hair-shirts, as councillors effectively offer themselves for the lowest tender (knowing that the review will recommend an increase anyway.) Sometimes politics is predictable and boring.

So how do you think the public would respond if Cornwall's political classes began campaigning to reduce the number of Cornwall councillors? The present number, 123, was arrived at in 2008 following an Electoral Commission study which the Commission itself felt was less than satisfactory.

The then chairman of the Implementation Executive, former county council leader David Whalley, had proposed a maximum number of 90 members and suggested a basic annual allowance of £18,000 for each. His ideas were thwarted by former district councillors who were, naturally, strongly opposed to their own abolition.

But does anyone think it would now be politically unpopular to advocate a reduction in the number of councillors, while maintaining the total remuneration pot at its present size - so, for example, a halving in the number of councillors could lead to a doubling of allowances paid to the rest?

This is of course a political question, as it would almost certainly redefine the sort of person seeking election to the council: over time, reducing the number of elderly and comfortably-off part-timers and encouraging a younger, more politically-motivated class of full-time local politician.

I have no idea whether this would lead to better or worse local services. But it would make it more difficult for the County Hall bureaucracy to routinely get its own way, and to that extent, would be more democratic.

And those who seek to spend our money could have no possible excuse for not paying their own taxes.

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