Expenses and attendance

A certain “they’re only in it for themselves” attitude seems to infuse many people’s attitudes to politicians these days. A few months after being elected as a councillor, I went on a trip – at my own expense – to Hebden Bridge’s twin town of Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise. A friend’s immediate reaction when I mentioned that I was going was to ask if it was a council-funded jolly. In fact it cost me £75.

To set the record straight, the only Hebden Royd Town Councillor who receives an allowance is the mayor, with the deputy mayor also receiving some limited expenses. Additionally, the council occasionally pays for some councillors to attend training courses.

Just to make it completely clear, I have added a page to this website detailing what I have and (more frequently) have not received as a councillor, including a list of trips attended as a councillor at my own expense.

I have also added details of my council attendance. This is a somewhat thornier issue for town councillors! I am sad to say that I have never seen all eighteen Hebden Royd Town Councillors present in the council chamber at the same time. Councillor attendance records are published in the Town Talk newsletter, available from the council website. My own attendance is pretty good, although I didn’t quite manage 100% last year (2009) due to a holiday and meetings clashing with other things. Still, 21 out of 23 meetings is not bad. Congratulations to Cllr. Lesley Jones (Lib Dem) and Cllr. Dave Young (Labour) who both managed 100% attendance. At my suggestion, the latest figures list full council and committee attendance separately.

It is interesting to see that committee attendance ranges from 0 (two councillors) to 22 meetings (Cllr. Robin Dixon). Full council attendance also ranges from 2 to 11. Two meetings a year is the minimum attendance necessary to stay on the council as, by law, if a councillor does not attend for six months then he or she is automatically thrown off. Even though we’re all volunteers on Hebden Royd, in my opinion anyone with such a poor attendance record should consider very seriously whether they are adequately representing the people who voted for them. Of course, if some councillors attend no committee meetings, the net result is that the rest of us have to attend more.

What about Calderdale councillors? Some councils, for example nearby Kirklees, publish very comprehensive details of who is paid how much for doing what. Unfortunately Calderdale’s equivalent page is much less impressive and, importantly, doesn’t name names. For any given councillor, it is extremely hard to work out how much they have received. I am a strong believer in open democracy, and find it quite shocking that this information is not readily available on Calderdale’s website. If anyone else has better luck looking for it then please let me know!

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