With the number of local government district set to be cut from the current twenty-six to just eleven in the next couple of years there will be a drop in the number of councillors of about 120. The environment minister has therefore put forward a plan to allow severance payments to current councillors who do not stand for the new councils, or who resign their seat before 31 December 2013.
Alex Attwood, the SDLP minister, says that the scheme is designed to
recognise the contribution of long-serving councillors who will not be standing for re-election, many of whom have served their communities during periods of political unrest. These councillors have made a significant contribution to the needs of people in their areas.
The main components of the proposed scheme include a minimum eligibility period of 12 years, graduated yearly payments to ensure that those with longer periods of service are treated fairly and proportionately, and a cap on individual payments of £35,000.
I don‘t quite understand why any public representative should get severance pay. In particular I don’t understand why in the case of Northern Ireland’s local councillors who have sat on bodies that do not have anywhere near as much responsibility as their counterparts in the rest of the UK. For instance, here in Northern Ireland councils are not responsible for education, housing, planning, or road building, although they are consulted on some planning applications. It has been said that their principal functions have been,
bogs, bins, and burials.
Seriously though, their functions include waste and recycling services, leisure and community services, building control and local economic and cultural development. Much good work is done by them, in particular by the professional staff of each council. The role of a local government councillor is not a full-time role. Councillors can receive an allowance of about £10k per annum (for an example see Ards Borough Council website). If councillors have received such an allowance, why do they need or even deserve an another payment as ‘severance’?
The consultation will closes 31 May, 2013. The document is available to view and respond to online at the DOE website.