Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by Gateshead Metropolitan Council (LAG 14)

  The remit of this inquiry is very wide ranging and no doubt the sub-committee will receive evidence on many different topics.

  Gateshead Council wishes to raise one issue only: the recruitment and retention of councillors. In particular

    —  how to make council service attractive to the widest possible range of people;

    —  restoring the balance between younger and older councillors, and between the more experienced and less experienced councillor.

  The Council's view is that a proper remuneration and pension structure for local authority councillors has a major role to play in this.

  The Government appears to share this aim. For example, the consultation paper "Modern Local Government: In Touch with the People" (July 1998) stated: "The financial support for councillors must also reinforce the culture of the modern council and address, as far as possible, any disincentives to serving in local politics" (paragraph 3.54). The paper went on to point out that the current body of councillors is not representative of the population as a whole: fewer councillors are employed, fewer are drawn from the ethnic minorities, many more are over 45 and many fewer are women, than is the case generally. This is not healthy for local democracy.

THE PROBLEM

  The lack of balance across the age groups is well known. The average age of councillors is 55 years and only 4 per cent are below 34 years old. It also appears that some 40 per cent of councillors leave office within two terms. Many are no doubt frustrated at their lack of prospects.

  Local government wishes to attract young people as councillors but they are faced with the prospect that if they gain election, they are likely to lose earning power. They therefore need some assurance that their remuneration as a councillor will at least to some extent compensate for this. They also need to know that at the end of their council career, they will be entitled to a pension which recognises the service they have given and in many cases their loss of pension entitlement from other sources.

  Equally, if older councillors have the prospect of a severance payment and a pension this may remove a disincentive to standing down. More council seats will thus become potentially available for young people.

THE APPROACH

  This is a complex issue and there are a number of factors which need to be addressed, such as:

    —  the way political parties recruit members and potential councillors;

    —  training and support for councillors once elected;

    —  how councillors are viewed by society.

  However, the Council believes that one factor which could have an early impact on the situation is the establishment of proper remuneration, and in particular pensions, for all councillors.

  It is all the more important to act now since the statutory framework for tackling this issue has been put in place by the Local Government Act 2000. This gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations about the payment of pensions, allowances or gratuities, under the Local Government Pension Scheme, to "such members of a local authority as may be prescribed by regulations" (section 99(1)). The regulations may also provide for the basic allowance or the special responsibility allowance to be treated as amounts in respect of which pensions, allowances or gratuities may be paid.

  There have been indications that the regulations will restrict the eligibility criteria for pensions to members of the executive and to those members outside the executive who have exceptionally large responsibilities, such as chairs of overview and scrutiny committees or regulatory committees.

  Gateshead Council is strongly opposed to such a distinction, which would be extremely divisive and would reinforce the view that some councillors are less valued than others.

  The Council believes that the eligibility of all elected members to receive a pension and severance payment needs to be clearly established. This is a key step in broadening the recruitment of councillors so that they become more representative of their communities and are more broadly balanced in terms of age and experience.

  The Council hopes the Environment Sub-committee will support this view.

January 2001


 
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