Expenses finally completed – my life can resume

This evening I completely finished the whole pile of washing up for what seems like the first time in months. That’s because the election only finished for me today with the delivery of our expenses return to Calderdale Electoral Services.

As agent for our general election candidate Hilary Myers this year, my main role was to support Hilary and ensure that she didn’t break any of the rules during the campaign. I also ended up writing and artworking a load of her literature, and liaising with local branches – but the biggest job was always going to be the declaration of expenses.

The situation was extremely complicated this year because local and general elections were held on the same day. Therefore any piece of literature which mentioned candidates for both elections had to be split between the appropriate expenses returns.

I had to declare every leaflet, advertisement, poster, etc. since 1 January. I have therefore spent the weeks since the election trying to gather together all relevant invoices, ensuring that they had been paid, and generally tearing my hair out communicating with the agents and candidates for the nine local election wards which make up Calder Valley constituency.

Both general election returns (for the ‘long’ and ‘short’ campaigns) added up to a shade over £8000, and twenty-nine invoices were submitted, the most complicated of which had to be split between six different election expense returns (five local wards, plus the general election). For those interested in the minutiae, the whole shebang will be available for inspection in Halifax from 18 June.

The expenses were covered by donations from various people, some of whom were extremely generous. My thanks to them. Oh yes, and I did it all for free. We start thinking about next year’s elections… at a meeting on Sunday. No rest for the wicked, as my grandfather used to say.

I did manage to have a bit of time off, spending two days in the Lake District over the bank holiday, spookily driving almost exactly the same route (except Whitehaven) as the bloke who shot all those people two days later. I remember driving through his village, although of course I didn’t know it at the time. It feels similar to being back home in Liverpool hearing about 9/11 as I’d been in New York the week before.

Also, I entertained a couple of young German visitors last weekend from Warstein, our twin town in Germany. We had a great time with organised activities such as a concert in Heptonstall, and unorganised activities such as an ad-hoc tour of Manchester which I took them on. That ranged from the Arndale Centre (including the Apple Store to play with an iPad) to Piccadilly Gardens, Affleck’s Palace (that was an eye opener for them!), China Town and the Town Hall. I enjoyed having them to stay and I think they enjoyed it too. Their English was excellent but it has inspired me to try and pick up my German again, last learned at school 1993-1995, now mostly forgotten. It would be nice to have a conversation of some sort in their native language next time we meet.

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!