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Monday, December 30, 2013

Paying unelected members of council committees is nonsense

The Western Mail reports on a ruling by the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales that will allow unelected members of the public co-opted on to council committees to claim more money in the New Year.

At present all 22 local authorities in Wales have people who are not elected councillors sitting on at least one committee. Most commonly these include independent members of Standards and Audit committees, but unelected individuals also sit on some scrutiny committees.

As the paper points out unelected voting members are already paid up to £256 a day if meetings they attend last for more than four hours, but under the new rules they could receive the full rate even if the meeting finishes in under four hours:

In its 2012 annual report, the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales expressed concern that current arrangements may be too restrictive.

From January 1, therefore, the maximum commitment of 10 days per year will be scrapped, and councils will be able to set their own higher limits if they want to.

The panel also recognised that time spent on attending authorised training events, conferences and pre-meetings with officers can be part of the functions for which co-opted members can be paid.

From this Wednesday, a series of new rules will apply:

* Reasonable time for pre-meeting preparation is eligible to be included in claims made by co-opted members, the extent of which can be determined by a an “appropriate” council officer in advance of the meeting;
* Travelling time to and from the place of the meeting can be included in the claims for payments made by co-opted members, up to the maximum of the daily rate;
* The appropriate officer within the authority can determine in advance whether a meeting is programmed for a full day and the fee will be paid on the basis of this determination even if the meeting finishes before four hours have elapsed;
* Meetings eligible for the payment of the fee include other committees and working groups, including task and finish groups, or any other formal meeting to which co-opted members are requested to attend.

One former Council Leader has estimated that this could cost Council taxpayers around £535,480 a year across Wales at a time when all authorities are seeking to cut millions of pounds from their budgets.

The timing is not good, but the principle too must be questioned. Independent members can be very useful on Standards and Audit Committees, but it is the job of elected Councillors to scrutinise the executive. They are accountable for that work, unelected members are not.

The proliferation of co-optees onto council committees is in danger of undermining the democratic process. To them pay them on this basis is utter nonsense.
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