Cash-for-councillors panel row after SLDC turns down applicant for post (From The Westmorland Gazette)
When news happens, text KENEWS and your photos and videos to 80360. Or contact us by email or phone.
Cash-for-councillors panel row after SLDC turns down applicant for post
A MEMBER of the public believes he was blocked from a role on a council panel for having too strong opinions about what councillors are paid.
Ian Kell, 64, tried to win a place on South Lakeland District Council’s independent remuneration panel, which sets the allowances councillors receive every year.
After being interviewed by SLDC director Debbie Storr, then panel chairman John Lyons and council solicitor Matthew Neal, the retired academic was recommended for the position.
But when it came to the vote by councillors, they chose not appoint him.
Instead, the council decided to re-advertise the posts and told Mr Kell the panel needed more women or people from the Ulverston area.
But Mr Kell, from Mealbank, submitted a Freedom of Information request to see the private committee papers used by the council.
They acknowledged he was “a strong candidate” who could make a “valuable contribution” to the panel - having served 15 years on Skelsmergh and Scalthwaite Parish Council.
But they added: “Mr Kell was noted at interview as forthright in his views and the means of expressing such views. As such it was considered that there is a risk that this factor may cause friction within the panel or subdue the members of the panel who have a more reflective approach to their work.”
Mr Kell believes his experience calls into question the panel's claim of independence.
SLDC had advertised for “impartial” people who would “enhance public confidence in the allowances system”.
Mr Kell said: “It’s been a very salutory experience and I have been surprised and shocked," he said. "What I understood to be a fair and even-handed process has proved not to be so.
“They do only say 'yes' to uncritical yes-men and yes-women. I was asked if councillors should be paid and I said no.
“Councillors are not paid, councillors can elect to take up to a maximum amount and with one or two honourable exceptions, they all elect to take the maximum.”
SLD's Lib Dem leader Peter Thornton said Mr Kell was entitled to his opinion.
Coun Thornton said: “If you look at who is on there, the quality of people and see their backgrounds you will see they are independent - they are not involved in politics.
"They don’t always do what we want and we have to accept their recommendations. We don’t appoint people who are too sympathetic," he said.
Coun David Williams, leader of the Conservative opposition, declined to comment.
Debbie Storr, SLDC's director of policy and resources, said: "Council considered filling these positions in February. At that stage councillors deferred decision to attempt to broaden the field of candidates to achieve mix in terms of gender, geography and skills mix.
"The second round involved a different panel and attracted eight candidates. Five of them were interviewed, including Mr Kell."
"Two stronger candidates emerged from the interview process. The decision to appoint them to the independent remuneration panel was made by full council."
Last year, councillors on SLDC cost the public purse more than a quarter-of-a-million pounds.
A total of £285,355 was paid to SLDC’s 51 councillors in 2012-13 - a small increase on the previous year.
Elected members can claim a basic £3879-a-year for the role as well as submitting expenses for travel and subsistence.
Extra payments are given if the councillor holds a special responsibility, like leader of their political group, a high-ranking role on a committee or are a member of SLDC’s most senior committee, the Cabinet.
As is usual practice, the highest amount went to the overall Council leader Peter Thornton, who claimed £19,211 - involving a basic £3,879 plus £12,442 as council leader and £2,899 in travel and subsistence expenses.
Coun James Airey, the Conservative group leader on SLDC during 2012-13, claimed £6,363 - consisting of the basic £3879 and £2484 for his role as leader of the Tory opposition.
Wife and fellow Tory councillor Caroline Airey, claimed the basic £3879.96.
Lib Dem councillors and husband and wife Jo and Hilary Stephenson also claimed a total £14,145.
Nine councillors on SLDC claimed only the basic £3879 and did not submit any travel or subsistence claims.
The money councillors receive is set every year by the five-member Independent Renumeration Panel which consists of five appointed members of the public.
Meanwhile, Cumbria County Council paid out just over £1 million in council allowances during 2012-13.
Comments are closed on this article.