In my last post I looked at the proposed increases to Cambridgeshire County Councillors’ allowances. I’ve been digging in to the data some more, and I’m not at all convinced by the arguments in the independent panel’s report. Here’s why not.
Let’s look at the Basic Allowance, which all councillors receive. The report recommends increasing this by 25%, from £7,610 to £9,500. It calculates this in three ways, to “triangulate” the proposed figure:
- a formula based on average daily income in the county
- allowances for NHS Trust and Police Authority members
- comparisons with other similar County Councils
I think there are problems with all three approaches, but I particularly want to take issue with the third one, which on the face of it might seem most convincing. But let’s quickly have a go at the other two.
First, the daily income formula. This takes the median daily salary in the county (£105), multiplies it by 2.5 days per week and 52 weeks per year, then knocks off 30% (to reflect the “voluntary aspect” of beng a councillor), giving £9,555. However, the report itself says that most councillors they interviwed gave a figure in the range of “2 to 2.5 days per week” as being suitable – but despite this, it just uses the figure at the top of the range. Using 2 days a week instead gives £7,644 – almost exactly the current Basic Allowance.
Secondly, comparisons with NHS Trust and Police Authority allowances. The report quite rightly says that members of these authorities do have higher allowances than county councillors, and in some ways have an easier time of it, with less public scrutiny. However, you could equally well argue that this shows that these allowances are too high, not that councillors’ allowances are too low.
Let’s hurry on to the comparison with other county councils. This article has already gone on far too long without a graph. Here are the basic allowances for a group of similar councils that the report considered:
Pretty reasonable, you might think. There’s poor old Cambridgeshire languishing near the bottom of the table, and all they want to do is push it up to a middling sort of position. But hold on a minute. How much is the basic allowance at the City Council? It’s only £2,782, barely a third of the county council’s basic allowance. Why should County Councillors get so much more? Well, they have a lot more people to represent. In Cambridge, there are three city councillors for each county councillor. OK then, so shouldn’t we take population into account when we’re deciding on allowances? The report makes no mention of it. But we can easily do the sums.
Fortunately, Wikipedia has a nice list of the population of each council area. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a similarly nice list of the number of councillors on each council, but we can soon find this with a little light Googling. Put it all together, and you get this:
This graph shows the basic allowance at each council, plotted against the number of people that each councillor represents (note: axes do not start at zero). As you can see, there’s a fairly strong correlation between the two (mathematically, it’s 74%, where 0% is no correlation, and 100% is perfect correlation). The blue line shows the best fit between the basic allowance and population. While Cambridgeshire is indeed on the “cheap” side of the line at the moment, the proposed increase would move it well to the “expensive” side of the line. Here’s another way of looking at the same data:
Now the picture looks a bit different. The proposed increase would catapult Cambridgeshire into the top three of the comparison group of councils, once you take population into account. Interestingly, the City Council’s basic allowance comes out at about average on this measure, which is more evidence that taking population into account is a sensible thing to do.
Of course, another fairly compelling argument is that councillors shouldn’t be voting to increase their allowances at all, at a time when council budgets are under such pressure, and many people are facing pay freezes or cuts. But even if they do, it should be on the basis of more convincing evidence than this report.