Tory pay stunt would make local politics a rich person's plaything

February 4, 2019 4:00 PM

There has been suggestion from a Conservative Party candidate that the Liberal Democrat Councillors in Hitchin Highbury ward donate their entire allowances to good causes. While on the face of it this seems to be an honourable thing to do, it would actually set a rather worrying precedent where only the rich could stand for election.

Councillors allowances mean that people from all backgrounds can stand for election and if successful work for their communities. If the allowances were not in place, or if those elected were expected to give them away it would mean that only the wealthy could consider being Councillors. This would mean that standing for office would be about how big your wallet is and not about how much you can help the local community.

Naturally, we oppose a move that would close off politics to those from different economic, social and political backgrounds. But while it shouldn't come as any great surprise that a Conservative candidate would support a move to disenfranchise vast swathes of the electorate, it is surprising to see a Conservative call for the abolition of the allowances that Tory council colleagues have raised - despite consistent opposition from the public.

The Conservatives in North Hertfordshire voted through an increase in Councillors allowances of 11% in 2017, with some Cabinet members receiving increases of up to 20% something which would cost the taxpayer around £30,000 per year, perhaps coincidentally a week later the Conservatives announced that a number of Childrens playgrounds and other facilities were to be closed in order to save around £30,000 per year. After this increase was voted through a number of Lib Dem and Labour group Councillors gave their increases to good causes, or refused the increase. No Conservative Councillors did this.

In 2018 the Conservatives again tried to push through an increase in Councillors allowances, this time 2% but it was found to be unlawful, and the allowances remained at the 2017 level. Then in late 2018 the Conservative cabinet members attempted to award themselves an additional £1,000 per year, something which was blocked by the Liberal Democrat and Labour groups. And with the Conservatives in national government cutting a further £1.8bn from local authorities in October 2018 alone, a pay pledge such as this should rightfully be seen as an empty gesture from a party that's brought local services across the district to its knees.

"There is an issue with the allowances, I personally feel that they are too high and have openly said as much in the past. Given an opportunity I would vote for them to be reduced to the 2016 levels. But this request from the Conservative candidate really seems to be a piece of electioneering, I would suggest that if the Conservative candidate was really sincere about this then he might want to start with his own party, who account for the largest slice of allowances in the district. The people need someone who will work in their interests and do all they can to best represent them, not someone who is trying to buy an election victory with their own personal wealth" states Hitchin Highbury Councillor Sam Collins.

"Councillor allowances encourage people from across the political, economic and social spectrum to put themselves forward for election and make their communities a better place," states George Osborn, Chair of North Hertfordshire and Stevenage Liberal Democrats.

"Rather than being drawn in by a cheap stunt from a party that's cut billions from council budgets across the country, residents of Hitchin Highbury should ask whether they can afford to let the Tories off the hook in May 2019."

"This year, residents of Hitchin Highbury can change their council for the first time since the mid 1990s by booting out the Tories. And by voting for Keith Hoskins MBE, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hitchin Highbury who ran the town centre for two decades and brought millions of pounds of investment into the area, residents can vote to replace complacent Conservatives with an experienced, passionate local champion on 2nd May 2019."