Not a week goes by at the Salford Star without a deluge of correspondence or website comments (most of which can't be published for libel) stating how councillors can't be found or don't respond to residents; or are picking up expenses for doing nothing; or are busy stuffing brown envelopes into their back pockets. So what do our local representatives do all day?
First up, it should be noted that councillors get a basic allowance of £10,509 per year but over half of them (51%) get a lot more than this for extra responsibilities. Last financial year, 2016-17, for instance, Deputy Mayors, Paula Boshell and John Merry, picked up £31,455 each in 'special allowances' and extra responsibilities payments.
Other high earning councillors included David Lancaster, £28,257; Lisa Stone, £27,366 (including £3,092 dependent carers allowance); Derek Antrobus, £24,264; Roger Jones £24,984; Bill Hinds £24,072, John Ferguson £23,716 and Tracy Kelly £23,539.
'Special responsibilities' includes being chairs of committees, providing 'Support', leading the opposition or sitting on outside bodies like Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority (£2,189) and Transport for Greater Manchester Committee (£3,987).
It could be considered a nice little earner, particularly if councillors have jobs too – and, according to a new survey of councillors to be considered by Cabinet next week, 40% of councillors do have another job, either part time or full time.
The survey is part of a draft report to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England, which will be considering how Salford's political future will look.
The wards of Ordsall, Broughton and Irwell Riverside are getting too big for their boundaries, and the Commission will look at different scenarios to solve this, which could include new wards in the city and less councillors per ward (see previous Salford Star article – click here)
Obviously the Council wants to defend what it has, and wants to keep the same number of councillors per ward, and the same number of wards, with a bit of re-shuffling. The survey of councillors' workload was a part of this, to show just how many hours and meetings they stuff into their month...
According to this survey, 25% of normal (ie non-Cabinet) councillors who responded spend over 15 hours per month preparing for meetings, 53% spend over 15 hours per month attending Council committee meetings, and 41% spend over 15 hours per month attending other Council meetings.
Over 60% of Cabinet members report that they spend over 15 hours per month attending Council and committee meetings, and 38% spend over 15 hours per month preparing for these meetings.
Of 45 councillors who responded to the question, 37 said that the time they spend on council business is greater than they had expected before they became a councillor, and 35 councillors said that their workload had recently increased.
One councillor quoted in the report states the reasons being "Much more meetings on budgets and cutting staffing and services. Difficult decisions on a weekly basis" (obviously doesn't include learning basic grammar), while another states "Less support from officers as they have been made redundant"...
Incredibly, 38% of the councillors surveyed stated that they spend over 15 hours a month on political 'party business', while 24% spend over 20 hours per month on political party business.
This contrasts with 33% of the councillors surveyed stating that they spend over 15 hours per month with constituents, and 42% of councillors spending over 15 hours per month dealing with constituents' issues. At a minimum, 15 hours per month is less than two full days.
The report states: "Half of all councillors are required to manage a caseload of at least 30 cases each month, with less than a third of councillors working on fewer than 20 cases each month..."
Over half the councillors believed that the increase in workload is due to the impact of austerity on the city, as well as new technology and involvement in Greater Manchester devolution which, the report states "adds to an already pressured workload"...
"The councillors make themselves very accessible to the public through face to face
surgeries, emails, telephone calls, social media etc" the report adds "...Technology
such as social media, mobile phones and emails, has enabled the public to engage
with their councillor, in a way that wasn't previously possible. This is something that
the Council has strived to develop and encourage, however, it places additional
demands on the councillor's time."
In the survey, 45 councillors stated said that they were 'spending more, or significantly more time' communicating with their constituents via email, and 60% said that they were 'spending more, or significantly more' time communicating via social media.
The report for the Boundary Commission concludes that councillors have a "substantial workload" and take part in "onerous" decision making processes...
"The role of the councillor is changing" the Council report insists "The survey and journal entries showed that austerity has transformed both the council itself, but also the lives of constituents, and the role of the councillor is adapting to the changing landscape. Councillors must work with growing numbers of community groups, to facilitate and support people to work alongside the council in a co-productive way, as traditional service delivery is forced to be cut back."
Of course, this is all geared to the Council preserving three councillors per ward and twenty wards in the city. Interestingly, residents themselves have not been surveyed on the role and workload of councillors...
More Information on Salford City Councillors...
* Over 30% of councillors are aged over 65, while 60% are aged over 55.
* One fifth of councillors have been in office for more than 20 years, a quarter between 10 and 20 years, 26% between 5 and 10 years and 21% between 2 and 5 years.
* 72% of councillors are currently male and 28% female
The local election takes place this Thursday 3rd May. For a complete list of candidates see previous Salford Star article – click here