Delving into the Taxpayers’ Alliance data on councillors’ basic allowances
Author: Zoe Stavri
Published on Aug 30, 2012
The Telegraph in particular has opted to focus on increases in the basic allowance--the minimum amount paid to councillors, although this is also given prominence in the TPA report. A deeper analysis of the figures [complete dataset here] suggests that this prominence may be undue.
Of the 434 councils examined, the basic allowance for councillors was frozen in 293 councils, a vast majority. In 78 councils, the basic allowance changed by less than 1%. Of the remaining councils, 27 increased the basic allowance, while in was decreased in 35 councils.
On a national level, the change in the basic allowance for councillors almost amounts to zero, with the mean basic income for councillors having fallen by £8.43 to £7,971.02. The councils reporting the largest increases in basic allowance were all councils where councillors’ basic allowance was below average by a large margin.
The TPA and Daily Telegraph both draw attention to variations in basic allowances for geographically close councils, with the TPA’s Matthew Sinclair asking, “Why do Manchester councillors each need nearly £16,000 per year when their counterparts in neighbouring Trafford happily carry out their duties for barely £6,000?” The answer to this question is that the councils mentioned are very different, with the former being a City Council and the latter being a Borough Council. This is not comparing like with like.
Cherry-picking is apparent in the presentation and interpretation of these data, but there is an important debate to be had about the nature of council work. Should we “professionalise” councils, making the role into a full-time job? This would likely result in a smaller number of councillors, but with better pay. Alternatively, do we keep councillors as amateurs and part-timers, still members of the community, even though the lower pay means that some will not have the time to become councillors, leaving it a preserve for the young and the retired? This is the debate on which we should focus, rather than a debate about the few councillors who have had a pay rise this year.