I’ve been thinking for a while that I need a pay rise. I don’t want to seem ungrateful to my electorate, and I do realise that my work represents a “calling” rather than a job. But, as a parish councillor, I’ve been having difficulty making my £100 per annum stretch to paying essential household bills.
In order to help any independent pay commission that might be brought in to deal with this issue, I’ve been trying to work out what rate of pay this represents. On average I attend about ten parish council meetings a year; seven meetings of the resources committee; five children’s playing field charity; four village hall charity; two planning; and about ten others that don’t fit any particular category.
So how many is that? 38 meetings for £100. £2.63 a meeting. Most meetings go on for about two and a half hours. I reckon that’s about a pound an hour – for meetings alone. If you consider prep time and answering emails, it’s small change.
I’m being flippant – but there is a serious point to this nonetheless.
As with Westminster MPs, you get what you pay for. Wye is supposed to have 11 councillors but we have had two vacancies for well over a year. The last elections was uncontested. Of the nine that serve, we are all men, and all but three of us are over 60. I’m sure all of my esteemed colleagues will recognize the similarity with Dad’s Army (and the threat from Imperial perhaps makes this comparison especially valid).
I suspect that this is by no means an uncommon scenario – though the National Association of Local Councils confesses to having no data at all on the age and sex of parish councillors nationwide. Neither could they tell me how many vacancies there were at any one time. I think we can assume nevertheless that the vast majority of councillors are 1/ elderly 2/ male. And 3/ that there are indeed a lot of vacancies.
Does this matter? Well, in the era of localism, I think it does. Wye Parish Council has just taken on responsibility for the village green (and of the public loos). We are about to build a Multi Use Games Area and hope to put solar panels on the village hall roof. All that might sound parochial but it involves a lot of work. The small change is getting even smaller.
The money is a token payment of course to pay for photocopying and printer ink. And you couldn’t really do it any other way. Increased payment wouldn’t necessarily attract a better group of councillors. It might not attract more women. There’d be a danger that you’d just attract a lot of people into the parish council who couldn’t do anything else? People who just get in the way?
Public service could be going out of fashion. Time seems more precious than it did in the past. The struggle to make ends meet means that few of us have time for the collective good. As the number of councillors dwindles, the task seems even less attractive to outsiders.
That’s a problem in the era of localism because an increasing workload has to be shared between fewer people.
Undoubtedly we need to make local democracy more attractive and enjoyable. But payment isn’t the way to do it.