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Monday, February 06, 2006

Golden Goodbyes revisited

Long-term readers of this blog will know that I opposed the proposal by the Labour Assembly Government to introduce 'golden goodbyes' for Councillors. The idea was that older Councillors would be encouraged to step down to make way for new blood. In reality however, the implementation of this idea was a farce.

The genesis of this policy lies in discussions in the Assembly's Local Government Committee. It was proposed to introduce a pension scheme for Councillors so as to compensate them for the general loss of salary, career opportunities and pension rights arising from the sacrifices associated with public service. This is something that I still support.

It was considered that if a pension scheme is in place then there would be a more natural process of succession within political parties, with older Councillors stepping down more easily to make way for others. However, it was not possible to get this in place in time for the 2004 elections so the proposal was to provide a one-off golden goodbye payment for Councillors of pensionable age. This I also supported.

Where it went wrong was in the Labour Government refusing to attach a minimum age to the payment. As a result it became nothing more than a lucrative redundancy payment, and a number of younger more able Councillors took advantage of it so as to assist them in changing career. What is worse is that some of the pensioners who did stand down were replaced by people even older than they were. It is for these reasons that the Liberal Democrats opposed the final scheme.

Now the Western Mail reports that the total effect of the payment has been to reduce the average age of a Welsh Councillor from 62 to 61. Most are still white, male and in their 60s. It is not of course, as if the 'golden goodbyes' policy can even claim credit for that. It was never intended in its original form to socially engineer political intake. Labour's problem is that they took that aim as an objective and they have been found wanting.

The 'golden goodbyes' were only adopted by eight of Wales' 22 Councils and even in those Councils such as Swansea where the average age subsequently went down this came about only because older Labour Councillors lost their seat to younger candidates of other parties. I used to be the third youngest Councillor on Swansea Council at the age of 44. I am now the eleventh or twelfth youngest. All of those 8 or 9 new Councillors are Liberal Democrats or Plaid Cymru. None got there as a result of a former Councillor taking a 'golden goodbye'.

Perhaps it is time that Labour apologised for wasting £1.6 million of public money in this way.
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