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Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Anybody for £20,000

So in the end the Welsh Labour group forced through the legislation that will enable long-serving Councillors to stand down next year with a pay off of up to £20,000. Only those Councillors who have served 16 years or more are entitled to the money. They can receive £1,000 for every year of service up to a maximum of £20,000. In return they must not stand at the 2004 election but there is nothing to stop them re-standing after that. Lots of talk about making space for new blood and compensating Councillors for years of sacrifice. It is as if Labour had turned a blind eye to the fact that most Councillors now receive more than adequate remuneration for the work they do. And as for new blood, it will take more than a few vacancies to make Welsh Councils attractive to the young, ethnic minorities, women and middle-aged professionals. For a start they should hold their meetings at reasonable times. At the moment most Councils operate as if they were the exclusive preserve of the retired, the unemployed and the unemployable. The scheme will cost the Assembly between £3 million and £4 million at a time when Labour are cutting £16 million off student access funds and failing to properly fund the Teacher's Workload Agreement.

The scheme was originally proposed in lieu of a pension scheme, which is on its way but won't be in place in time for the next elections. The idea was of a one-off scheme to compensate aging politicians for not having a pension and for the sacrifices they had made during their working life including a reduced work pension due to spending so much time in meetings and not attending at their paid employment. However, by the time it had got to the Assembly Plenary all reference to pensioners had disappeared and there is now no lower age threshold. This means that Councillors as young as 40 could claim the money. The Welsh Liberal Democrats put an amendment down to re-instate the minimum qualifying age of 65 but were then accused of being ageist. I suppose that when Labour get around to introducing pensions for Councillors they won't specify an age then either? What nonsense! Many members of the public will see this scheme for what it is, a golden egg for a lot of Labour geese.

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