Councillors cautiously agree with wage freeze

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ELLON councillors have extended cautious welcome to news that a review of councillor salaries is to be postponed for a year - but warned that further freezes will risk turning people away from a career in local politics.

The announcement came from Local Government Minister Derek Mackay, who said that recommendations to increase councillor wages - made by the Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee (SLARC) - would have added pressure to council budgets in a time of fiscal austerity.

He said: “We have always sought to ensure that pay policy is fair and affordable across the areas of the public sector that we have responsibility for, which includes councillors’ pay.

“Any increase in pay would put additional pressure on local authority budgets and I have decided that councillor’s pay will remain frozen in 2012-13.

“I will look again at the SLARC recommendations next year, ahead of 2013-14, to see what is affordable, sustainable and appropriate at that time.”

Cllr Isobel Davidson welcomed the proposals as a demonstration that politicians were sharing the pain of the recession, but added that councillors were already paid comparatively poorly.

“We need to be treated the same as everyone else so it is right that we do not get a pay rise again,” she said.

“However, I don’t think that people are aware of the low wage that councillors get. It is calculated as a part time wage, but it is hard to find an employer or job which works along well with the commitments of a councillor.”

Cllr Rob Merson agreed, saying: “While it is unfortunate that the erosion of the remunation package to elected members might act as a disincentive to aspiring councillors who may need a living wage to support their families, it would seem unreasonable to award an increase when the jobs of so many public service workers are under threat - and budgets are being slashed.

“These are difficult times, and that should also hold true for certain others in public office - including parliamentarians, senior civil servants the senior management of local government.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Debra Storr said that, while she recognised the political and financial motives behind the freeze, the move risked turning local politics into a rich man’s game.

“I do not rely on my councillor salary in order to live; I have always worked as well as being a councillor,” she said.

“The £7k when I started being a councillor in 1999 allowed me to work part time only, and the £16k after 2007 allowed me to reduce my other paid work.

“But if people want competent councillors, then they will need to pay a decent rate for the job, else we will return to councillors being drawn from the rich, the retired, the totally politically committed or the unemployable - with a few people of conscience and dedication.

“I understand that the Scottish Government have balked at pay rises for themselves or Councillors. This may be justified in difficult times but in the long term this is not sustainable.”