[Sidmouth Herald managed to clip the last two paras which have now been reinstated]
Paul Arnott www.sidmouthherald.co.uk
It’s an odd thing that the more all-consuming your work, the more just two or three days off from it can restore the spirits. In previous articles, I have mentioned what a tiny allowance district councillors receive for work which, for the hard-working majority, consumes at least two and a half working days per week.
For that, a councillor can claim £4,360 per annum, taxed. Before tax, they are lucky if this amounts to more than £4 per hour.
And this is proper work. Perhaps in the old days a district council role was part of an elderly member of a community’s retirement, the allowance perhaps allowing a cabin upgrade for their annual cruise.
That’s not how it is these days. The work is technical, and challenging. Meetings are long with agendas are often the length of a short novel.
Nobody can remember when these allowances were last raised, although in the coming year an independent review will have a look. East Devon’s are, I understand, just about the lowest in the south west. Despite this, I have not heard any special pleading. Councillors understand it is an honour to serve.
As leader of the council, I was back to the desk on the 27th, in preparation for the first cabinet of the year next week. If you have a moment, may I please suggest a glance at the agenda, published on the website. There are a couple of items in particular which show how my administration and our officers are doing all we can to help those especially struggling at the moment.
We are discussing a “Cost of Living Hardship Fund”, to replace the fund running during Covid-19. In particular this will target homes, especially those with poor insulation and low energy ratings, whose energy bills are a great worry this winter.
Then we discuss the Council Tax Reduction Scheme for 2023/24. From the work we have been doing on poverty and financial resilience since 2020, we have recognised that low-income households are being disproportionately impacted by the cost-of-living crisis. In addition, welfare reform over the last 10 years has seen real term cuts in benefit payments.,
As a result, more and more people are becoming reliant on foodbanks or accessing emergency support funds. These proposed changes will provide real term benefits to those households on low incomes, and the two largest groups to gain will be families with children and households where there is a disabled resident living.
I mention all this because I want readers to know that our work is not just about planning. These proposed changes support the work the Council is doing as part of its poverty strategy by building financial resilience, and helping to lift people out of repeat financial crises.
The consideration given to devising these schemes, ensuring that they are both lawful and affordable, is highly complex. This is many hours of work, and many meetings, for councillors. The burden of administering it all then falls on our deeply committed officers. The relationship between councillor and officer must never be complicated by politics, but my sense is that these sensible, centrist measures strike a chord with our staff.
Which brings me to conclude with a matter I often forget to mention! What is the political identity at EDDC? Well, about a third of councillors are Conservative and since 2019 they are the opposition.
But the council is actually governed by what we ended up calling a “Democratic Alliance” of Independents (mainly East Devon Alliance Indies), Lib Dems and Greens.
We get all sorts thrown at us, and with district councils up for election in May, this will probably escalate. But we govern from the centre in the most transparent way EDDC has ever managed. I hope that, acknowledging imperfections, this matches most of your wishes too. Happy New Year.