20 January 2012

Once more Cornwall Council is considering councillors’ pay, called allowances. I shall revisit my post of 27 July 2010 when I suggested linking Cornwall councillors’ pay to average pay in Cornwall.

First let me say that I think Cornwall councillors should be paid more than they are. If we wish people who are not wealthy or retired to be able to join those two groups in undertaking the role, we should pay them enough as councillors to live on decently. The pay scheme should aim to enable the widest possible range of people stand for council.

The present basic pay scheme links Cornwall councillors’ pay to national male white-collar median wage. I think this is the wrong link.

The pay scheme should be related to
— the median pay of all employees not just males; and be based on
— the median pay in Cornwall, the county where the councillors serve.

Median pay is more representative of the wage reality in Cornwall than mean average pay as it excludes distortion by extremes. Half the workers earn more and half less than the median pay. There are various ways of measuring it as the ASHE tables show but I think the most representative is the one for all fulltime employees whose place of work is in Cornwall.

Many councillors are women and I certainly think we should go for ‘all employees’. This produces a lower figure than for only male employees; the council should be encouraged to understand the gap between male and female pay. Using the ‘all employees’ yardstick will be a reminder of the gap and the need to tackle it.

There are positive psychological and political reasons for this average-local-pay approach. If councillor basic pay were a to-be-decided percentage of the appropriate median pay of all employees in Cornwall that would relate it directly to the pay of the people the councillors serve. That strikes me as a valuable link, rational and comprehensible, tying the councillors to the local economy, and possibly a mild incentive to councillors to promote policies that increase Cornwall’s prosperity. It gives councillors a stake in the wages of Cornwall as it were; linking councillor pay like this is an argument for solidarity between councillors and people in Cornwall.

There are various ASHE median pay figures for Cornwall and it would be for debate which was the most appropriate. I think the figures for fulltime, men and women, gross annual pay by place of work (table 7.7a) are the most relevant ones. In 2011 this was £21 510 (provisional) for Cornwall: see here. 75 percent of that median would put councillor basic pay at £16 133 a year and that strikes me as a reasonable benchmark.

Rises in councillors’ pay would be automatic once the particular ASHE pay data and the percentage to be applied, along with the timing of any increases, have been agreed; councillors would play no part in deciding their pay.

If we link councillors’ pay to the ASHE Cornwall average pay figures everyone in Cornwall will readily understand the link and see how it works, which I think will help to build acceptance and support for the pay scheme.

Councillors with designated special responsibilities such as cabinet members should continue to be paid additionally through a system of multiples or percentages of the basic pay.

A pay panel of non-councillors is to be convened. I hope it will ask people in Cornwall for their views.

If Cornwall were to shift from a cabinet to a committee structure, we should of course have to look at pay again.