Friday, 21 October 2011

Labour and Tory councillors join forces to feather their own nests..

Today's meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council - amazingly, one of only six a year at which issues facing the city can be discussed by all councillors - saw one of the ugliest examples of local politicians misjudging the public mood I've witnessed in a while.

Topics discussed ranged from provision of ice rinks in the city, enforcing the law preventing driving and parking on pavements in Elm Grove, the future of the wonderful Saltdean Lido, using mobile devices to send 'Tweets' in meetings, academy schools, the Government's 'Developers' Charter', roadworks and public-sector pensions.

These debates were, as usual, dominated by party politics, but were pretty good-natured, and were certainly informed (on all sides) by honourable intentions and genuinely-held opinions.

But then we discussed the allowances paid to councillors. Personally, I don't think this should be a matter for councillors at all. There's an independent panel who decide what appropriate payments to councillors are, and I think we should listen to them. After all, they're the experts and, crucially, they're independent, and don't stand to gain - or lose - whatever they say. Most Green Party councillors agree.

Unfortunately, though, the Labour and Tory groups didn't. They presented, jointly, an amendment to the independent report to reinstate special cash payments of just over £2,000 to seven councillors the experts decided weren't really justified. The total cost, just over £15,000, will have to be met by making slightly deeper cuts to other budgets than the Government is already forcing us to make.

I don't know what I think is more shameful: that Tory and Labour councillors are so out of touch with the public that they think it's acceptable to divert cash from public services to their own pockets against the recommendation of an independent panel of experts, that they think it's acceptable for councillors themselves to be making these decisions, or that when it comes to feathering their own nests local Labour and Tory politicians are so quick to form a coalition to get their own way.

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