Memorandum by Gateshead Metropolitan Council
The remit of this inquiry is very wide ranging
and no doubt the sub-committee will receive evidence on many different
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
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 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.
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
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.