Local Councillors Increase their Allowances and Cut Meals on Wheels

I have written the following letter: letter-re-councillors-allowance.pdf to all councillors on Elmbridge Borough Council on behalf of WHLP. The text (please scroll to the bottom and work your way up) of the letter was written by Jackie Andrews from comments by Sarah Adams. I will post on here any replies I receive.

Our 2nd Response to all the Elmbridge Borough Councillors

acoomes@elmbridge.gov.uk; adavis@elmbridge.gov.uk; ahill@elmbridge.gov.uk; apalmer@elmbridge.gov.uk; bfairbank@elmbridge.gov.uk; csadler@elmbridge.gov.uk; gwoolgar@elmbridge.gov.uk; iregan@elmbridge.gov.uk; jturner@elmbridge.gov.uk; kcross@elmbridge.gov.uk; krandolph@elmbridge.gov.uk; maxton@elmbridge.gov.uk; mmarshall@elmbridge.gov.uk; nhaigbrown@elmbridge.gov.uk; nhouston@elmbridge.gov.uk; pheaney@elmbridge.gov.uk; rahmed@elmbridge.gov.uk; rgreen@elmbridge.gov.uk; rlyon@elmbridge.gov.uk; skapadia@elmbridge.gov.uk; sselleck@elmbridge.gov.uk; tbland@elmbridge.gov.uk; tpopham@elmbridge.gov.uk; tshipley@elmbridge.gov.uk; veldridge@elmbridge.gov.uk

Hi all,

Thank you to both councillors from the LibDem/Residents group who made the effort to answer my previous email. I have replied to both individually. Well done to Councillors Heaney and Popham who both abstained from voting, we would have preferred you to have followed your convictions completely and voted against but I believe that you were under a whips’ instruction. The Mayor also abstained as is the normal practice on these occasions.

For the remaining 21, or so of your group, your silence speaks volumes. We can only assume that your consciences are in turmoil after voting yourselves a whopping great 12.4% increase in the middle of an austerity crisis which has seen the underprivileged in Elmbridge suffer more than most and the elderly getting a cut in their Meals on Wheels budget and other necessary benefits. We hope that you have a good explanation ready for your constituents at the next local elections, because if they have forgotten about your heartless actions we will remind them.

We are aware that you are not responsible for the actions of this callous and divisive National Government but you must have been mindful how insensitive your vote was. I doubt that any of you have had to use the food banks in Elmbridge over this Christmas season. The 12.4% increase in your allowance will hardly cause a ripple in your households whilst the cut backs in benefits can be devastating for the poor.

I hope you enjoyed your Christmas dinner.

Have a good New Year.

Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

Our 1st Response to all the Elmbridge Borough Councillors

Hi all,

I would like to thank all the Conservative councillors who have taken the trouble to reply to my letter regarding the recent vote by Elmbridge councillors to increase their council allowances by 12%, in spite of the heartless austerity measures imposed by this government. To all Conservative councillors who voted against this proposal we congratulate you and confirm that Walton and Hersham Labour Party is fully supportive of your actions, a statement which I am sure will cause considerable consternation/mirth/confusion/surprise (delete as appropriate), amongst your ranks.

In reply to Michael Bennison’s patronising comment, suggesting I do some research to find how councillors voted, I would advise him that in his desire to attack me he has missed the point of the letter, which was to complain about those members who supported the increase whilst the austerity programme enforced by this government, hits the underprivileged in our society hardest of all. Michael, I was aware how members voted but as a matter of curtesy, a virtue which appears in short supply in the Cobham and Downside ward, I wrote to all councillors, so that everyone, regardless of Party, would be aware of our views.

In conclusion, it is a shame that your colleagues on Surrey County Council and in National government, spoiled your gesture of solidarity with the poor by continuing to enforce draconian cuts on Meals on Wheels and other benefits for the elderly and underprivileged in our very wealthy borough, causing untold misery this Christmas.

Again, thank you all for replying and I hope you, at least, have plenty of food on your table this Christmas.

Regards

Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #09 – Simon Foale
sfoale@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Richard,

Delighted to see this exchange and that Ian had followed up.  Well done Ian.

Noting your comments below, whilst I would accept that most Independent voters in St George’s Hill are natural conservatives and vote that way in General Elections you might be surprised to know that the Councillor is virtually a card carrying Labour supporter!  But then the whip and personal interest are funny things!

Apologies; I would have also replied but we have been moving house.

Happy New Year!

Regards,
Simon Foale
Councillor Simon Foale,
St George’s Hill Ward
Elmbridge Borough Council

Our Response to Simon Foale (REPLY #09)
sfoale@elmbridge.gov.uk

Simon,

Good to hear from you and many thanks for taking the time to comment, it’s much appreciated.

I have heard from most councillors now and the majority have entered into grown up dialogues, a few… well society breeds all sorts.

I think I can safely say that no one on this side of the political divide would be the least shocked to find out that the residents of St. Georges Hill vote Conservative – it’s ironic, don’t you think, that all these Russians are such staunch supporters of capitalism now, I wonder why? I’m not suggesting for one moment that only Russians live in St. Georges Hill!

Interesting to see you mention that ‘the Councillor is virtually a card carrying Labour supporter!’. I assume you mean Peter. I have never met the man but I am not aware that he has shown any inclination towards the Labour party. You also suggest that he followed the whip and his personal interests in his exercising of his vote…ouch! I hope he is not thin skinned.

Hope your house moving went well.

Regards

Richard
Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #09b – Simon Foale
sfoale@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Richard,

It is interesting going through this string of emails and one day a pint of beer and further discussion would be appreciated!

You say austerity, I say sound financial management with some very difficult decisions!

The boundary of where the state should fund and people themselves is an interesting one; I would say two things:

Neither extreme, communism or no state intervention, works.

It’s not the State’s money but the tax payers’.

Regards,
Simon Foale
Councillor Simon Foale,
St George’s Hill Ward
Elmbridge Borough Council

Our Response to Simon Foale (REPLY #09b)
sfoale@elmbridge.gov.uk

Simon,

I would agree with you that neither communism or no state intervention is a panacea for our financial problems. But  Socialists would point out, as I have before in an email, that socialism has never been fully implemented anywhere in the world. Global capitalism has such a stranglehold that it would be very difficult to introduce pure socialism anywhere, but we’ll keep trying – even in wealthy Elmbridge – there must be some capitalist supporters with a conscience.

Making difficult decisions to hand down to others is what financially comfortable people find easy, austerity is what the poor buggers suffer when the wealthy make the decisions for them. Forgive my language but socialism is a passion or it is nothing. As well as ‘sound financial management’ the underprivileged of Elmbridge desperately need compassion. I feel that only socialism offers both.

Of course, I would be astonished if you agreed with me, so perhaps one day we can put the world to rights over that pint of beer.

Regards

Richard
Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #08 – Mary Marshall
mmarshall@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Richard,

Thank you for taking the time to contact me and every other Elmbridge Borough Councillor.

Having read your second email of insults I am responding to enlighten you a little, not that it will make a jot of difference to your mind set.

It may be a consideration for you to attack people for what you know of them and not what you think you might know.

Personally my allowance and my wages do a great deal for the community I represent and I spend a good deal of my time and money helping those less fortunate than myself in my Ward, around Great Britain and abroad.

It was after a great deal of personal deliberation and discussion with officers and other Councillors that I finally decided to accept the findings of the IRP.

Having had a difficult upbringing and been homeless myself for almost three years (before there were any food banks), I understand first hand what it is like to have no home, money or support.

Have you ever been in such a predicament Sir?

Below is my response to you and I hope that you will understand that my decision was to bring a fair allowance to the majority and not just the few. Fairness for all after many years of gross unbalance.

I would be more than happy to discuss this further with you if you should so wish, but I hope I have answered all your questions with regards to this matter.

May I take this opportunity to sincerely wish you and your family a Very Happy New Year.

Much of the response with regards to the Allowances is contained within the report already considered by the Council and can also be clearly seen on the Website.

A few particular points may be:

  1. The requirement to have an IRP came from legislation in 2003, which was a government change.
  2. When considering the allowances the Council has complied with the statutory requirement and accepted the recommendations of the Independent Panel.
  3. The Independent Panel’s recommendation establishes (at last) a fair formulaic method to calculate the allowances and establishes a methodology moving forward.
  4. It could be argued that given the formulaic method there is an indication that for eight years under the Conservatives the Leader and the Cabinet received a far higher disproportionate allowance than all the other Councillors. (It is no surprise therefore that as they are no longer in receipt of this they would propose a reduction in the Leaders allowances to a rate last seen in 2007)
  5. How the allowances compare with the other Surrey Districts, is at or below the average.
  6. I believe there is a need to ensure that everyone has the ability to become a Councillor from all walks of life irrespective of “wealth” and personal circumstances. So that people who may otherwise not be able to provide a valuable service for the community and influence the policies of the Council are not excluded from standing to be a Councillor because of Financial considerations.
  7. The basic allowance gives a Councillor that is not on the Cabinet or the Leader of the Council a fair allowance to carry out their Civic duties. It should be remembered that every Councillor in this new formulaic method is considered to give 50% of their time on a purely voluntary basis.
  8. It is up to each individual Councillor if they take an allowance or not.
  9. The provision of Social Services (including Community Centres) is a function carried out normally by County Councils and not by districts, there is a funding shortfall in Social Services across the country. The amount EBC receives from SCC to provide these services has and will continue to decrease. Indications from users of the services also indicate that they would be willing to pay more for the services they receive rather than services being cut or reduced.
  10. The Council overall has made a saving from the 20% reduction in the number of Councillors, in the May elections.

Kind regards,

Mary
Cllr Mrs. Mary Marshall
Portfolio Holder for Community & Corporate Development
Elmbridge Borough Council
Claygate Ward

Our Response to Mary Marshell (REPLY #08)
mmarshall@elmbridge.gov.uk

Hi Mary,

I am sorry that you took my email as a personal insult. It wasn’t meant as such. I agree that I used strong and emotional language but that’s what passion does to you. We in this Party, are passionate about many things and one of them is caring for the underprivileged, particularly elderly, anywhere in the world but our experience is mostly with Elmbridge underprivileged. We supported the food banks over Christmas, without any publicity, and individual members did voluntary stints, as usual, at various charities.

I, for one, don’t believe that only Socialists have a conscience or uniquely help others. But we are a passionate movement and I don’t apologise for ruffling a few comfortable feathers. Incidentally, I received a number of, shall we say, ignorant comments in response to my first email but that’s politics. Our point is still valid though; we think it was insensitive beyond belief that councillors could vote themselves a 12.4% increase whilst the underprivileged in Elmbridge are suffering from the austerity measures put in place by this callous and uncaring National government.

Your personal circumstances in the past obviously have been uncomfortable but I am not prepared to enter into a battle of emails to prove which of us was the most deprived. Yes I have been all the things you have asked and more  but I will not display them in an email to score petty points. If we should meet in the future then perhaps we can exchange memories.

I have not had time to study your points about the council and allowances but I will do so but I imagine they are much the same as the others I have received.

Anyway, in the meantime, I thank you for your best wishes and hope that you all have  Good New Year.

Regards

Richard
Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #08b – Mary Marshall
mmarshall@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Richard,

Thank you for your response.

I am not here to score points and appreciate your understanding on the matter.

I fully respect your passion and agree that we do not have to advertise what we do for others less privileged than ourselves.

I am an elected Councillor because the people in my ward know how much care and dedication I put into looking after them especially those in need.

I will leave you to study the points I have made but in the meantime, yes indeed I do take things personally because I really do care about the responsibility I have been given.

Please try to put the situation into perspective and not just your political point of 12.4% which is an accumulation of many years of an unjust and unfair allowance which benefited the Leader and the Cabinet of the Conservatives.

This was I reiterate the findings of an independent panel.

Ironically it is now the Conservatives that will benefit the most from the increase whilst in opposition.

It will be even more interesting to see who actually takes the increased allowance after all the criticism from many people who are in a very sound financial position.

The world over if well meaning people put politics aside and worked together so much more would be achieved.

Happy New Year.

Kind regards,

Mary
Cllr Mrs. Mary Marshall
Portfolio Holder for Community & Corporate Development
Elmbridge Borough Council
Claygate Ward

Our Response to Mary Marshall (REPLY #08b)
mmarshall@elmbridge.gov.uk

Mary,

Thank you for you’re reply. One issue that bothers me, is that, as far as I am aware, Elmbridge councillors received the same increase as council staff for the last three years. If, indeed, that is true then the comment you and others have made regarding no increase since 2008 doesn’t ring true. I would be fascinated to learn which is true, your version or the other side.

Socialism is like a religion, it cannot be blended with other social philosophies for the ease of cooperation or, for that matter, simply brushed aside. However, your point is still valid, if everyone showed respect to other views and still communicated and worked together, the world would be a better place.

Regards

Richard
Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #08c – Mary Marshall
mmarshall@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Richard,

As far as I am aware there were increases but the basic allowance has fallen further and further behind whilst the Leader and the Cabinet received the maximum benefit. My ideal was to correct this unfair, disproportionate advantage.

Politics, socialism, communism, religion…. all man made, all constructive and destructive depending on their use and abuse.

Let us hope and pray that 2017 will see a better situation for everyone regardless of their standing.

I wish you well and hope that we may meet one day to discuss matters further.

Happy 2017

Kind regards,

Mary
Cllr Mrs. Mary Marshall
Portfolio Holder for Community & Corporate Development
Elmbridge Borough Council
Claygate Ward

REPLY #08d – Mary Marshall
mmarshall@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Richard,

I thought you might find this link useful.

Happy New Year.

http://www.elmbridge.gov.uk/councillors-and-committees/allowances/

Kind regards,

Mary
Cllr Mrs. Mary Marshall
Portfolio Holder for Community & Corporate Development
Elmbridge Borough Council
Claygate Ward

Our Response to Mary Marshall (REPLY #08d)
mmarshall@elmbridge.gov.uk

Mary,

Thank you for sending me the link. I already have used that link.

It is difficult to work out historic increases apart from the one implemented in April 2015. But I note that there was an increase in, I assume, April 2014. That’s two so far, I can’t find the figures for April 2013 and April 2016 remains cloudy. Perhaps you would be kind enough to point me n the right direction.

Regards

Richard
Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #07 – Chris Sadler
csadler@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Mr Leonard,

Thank you for your two e-mails on the subject of the increase in Councillor Allowances, which you have linked to increases in charges we have made for some of the services we provide to elderly people in the Borough.

The two matters are not connected and in fact were debated at different Cabinet meetings.

Taking the issue of our services for the elderly first, we are proud of the quality and availability of these services which have been maintained irrespective of which political group has formed the administration. Although, like other Councils, we make charges for Meals on Wheels, lunches at Community Centres and Community Transport, these do not cover the full cost by any stretch of the imagination, and in the current financial year the budgeted subsidy from the general funds of the Council in respect of running the Centres for Retired People, Meals on Wheels and Community Transport comes to over £2million. Over the years we have extended the various services and negotiated grants from Surrey County Council to support these services, grants which now add up to over £600,000 on the basis that they help the elderly to live longer in their own homes rather than go into residential care, which would impose greater costs on SCC. Regrettably, as a result of the desperate financial situation that SCC now finds itself in, it has decided to reduce its grants to Elmbridge in respect of our services for the elderly for the next financial year by £197,000. Faced with this sudden reduction in income, our officers who manage these services felt that the residents who use the services would rather see some increase in prices, rather than face a cut in services. We worked closely with our officers to put forward a series of modest price increases, which should prove affordable to our customers. The price of “Meals on Wheels ” for example goes up from £3.60 to £3.80, 20 pence a meal or 5.6%. At £3.80, the cost will still be lower than that charged in Spelthorne (£3.90), Surrey Heath (£3.85 for a standard two course meal), Runnymede (£4.20), Tandridge (£4.20), Guildford (£4.10), Epsom and Ewell (£4.15). Mole Valley and Reigate &Banstead do not provide a Meals on Wheels service at all.  The outcome of the review of charges is that we expect the income from providing these services to increase by £43,065 in a full year, which is less than 25% of the cut in grant from Surrey County Council. All this was fully explained in the papers that went to the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday 12th October ( and which are publicly available on the Council’s website), and interestingly there was no challenge to the proposals from the Conservative opposition on the Council either then or at the full Council meeting on 7th December.

Turning to the separate issue of Councillor Allowances, it would appear that you only know a part of the story. For example, whilst the Basic Allowance will increase from 1st April 2017 by 12.4%, Special Responsibility Allowances will only increase for the most part by less than 1%, and indeed some will be reduced.

To put this in context, the Local Government Act 2000 ( passed by the then Labour Government ) requires each Local Authority to have an Independent Remuneration Panel to consider and recommend a scheme for the payment of Councillor Allowances. The Panel’s recommendations are then considered by Cabinet ( at Elmbridge) and ultimately the full Council makes the final decision. At Elmbridge, prior to the latest report dated October 2016, there had been 15 reports from the Independent Remuneration Panel, roughly one each year. The latest report, which was included as Appendix A to the recommendation to Cabinet for its meeting on November 16th, charts the development of the level of the Basic Allowance since 2005. In September 2007, it was £4,120 a year, and an increase to £4245 was agreed with effect from 1st April 2008. The current level of Basic Allowance is £4395. The Panel recognised that since its last meeting in September 2014, the Boundary Commission for England had undertaken a review that had led to a reduction in the number of Councillors from 60 to 48. At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, this had two important consequences, first that the Council would save itself paying 12 times the Basic Allowance of £4395, I.e. £52,740, and secondly that on average each Councillor would have 25% more electors in their ward and could therefore expect an increase in workload. Accordingly, the Panel decided that they felt it appropriate to undertake a full review and to “develop a structured approach in determining allowances.” They felt that ” a structured formula for calculating the BasicAllowance will provide a foundation to allow a future panel to better determine the Allowance and also provide a transparent formula for how the Basic Allowance was arrived at.”

The formula that the Panel determined on was :-

– the average number of hours a week worked by a front line Councillor, multiplied by
– the median hourly earnings for the South East of England as a place of residence, as published by the Office for National Statistics, then reduced by
– the Public Service Percentage, representing that element of a Member’s activity that should be given on a voluntary basis.

The number of hours per week worked by Councillors was taken as 13, based on interviews with Elmbridge Councillors and the results of questionnaires submitted to the Panel by Elmbridge Councillors, and this was then checked against the results of a national Councillor Census conducted by the Local Government Association (LGA).

The median hourly earnings figure was the latest one available, being that dated December 2015, and was £14.62 per hour.

Lastly, a figure of 50% was taken as the appropriate Public Service discount. The Panel commented that across the South East Region, the average is 35% to 50%.

The result of this calculation ( 13 x £14.62 x 52 @ 50%) came out at £4942 per annum.

This was then compared with Basic Allowances currently paid across the 11 Surrey Boroughs and Districts, which average £4893, and the Panel noted that if the Basic Allowance was set at £4942, then it would be at the mid-point of the 11Surrey Boroughs and Districts.

The Panel also noted that the overall cost to the Council of the increases they were proposing would be £30,193, and therefore given the savings of £52,740 arising from the reduction in the number of Councillors from 60 to 48, there would still be savings of £22,547.

The Cabinet considered the report very carefully. We noted that at £4942 compared to £4245 as at April 2008, the Basic Allowance will not have kept pace with inflation, either as measured by the CPI or the RPI. We noted that following the Boundary Commission Review, each Councillor will almost certainly have an increased workload, as a result of having on average 25% more voters in their Ward.

We considered that the Panel had put forward a strong case for the structured formula they were proposing. For all these reasons, we felt fully justified in endorsing their report.

What is surprising -perhaps- is the outrage from members of the Conservative Group, when they have been silent about truly outrageous increases pushed through by other Conservative administrations in Surrey. In May 2014, the Conservative Group on Surrey County Council (of which Cllr Bennison is also a Member ) voted through a 59% increase in Allowance for their Leader David Hodge, from £27,000 to £43,000 instead of the £35,548 recommended by their Independent Remuneration Panel. The Panel was so appalled that they all resigned. Where was Councillor Bennison’s outrage then?  And earlier this year, we saw Spelthorne Borough Council on 21 July voted to ignore the recommendation of their Independent Remuneration Panel and gave themselves an increase in their Basic Allowance of 46.9% from £3938 to £5785, rather than the 15.5% increase to £4550 recommended by the Panel.

I trust that you will find the above comments helpful in understanding the full picture surrounding the proposed increases in Councillor Allowances and wish you all the best for 2017.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Sadler

Our Response to Chris Sadler (REPLY #07)
csadler@elmbridge.gov.uk

Hi Chris,

Thank you for your comprehensive response. Without wishing to be dismissive in any way, the data you have provided is similar to that offered in mitigation by a number of other councillors, so forgive me if I do not enter into the minutiae of your case. I understand perfectly why the councillors of Elmbridge felt they deserved an increase in their allowances.

I’m afraid, Chris, that you appear to miss the point of our letter; the fact that both items were debated on different days is not the issue nor, in many ways, are the amounts involved. What we are objecting to is the callous and insensitive timing of giving yourself a rise, a substantial one at that, whilst the most vulnerable in Elmbridge society have to make do with cuts to their subsidies. This increase comes on top of increases each of the last three years in line with staff pay rises. As I have said before the increase of 12.4% will hardly cause a ripple in the Sadler household but the, to you, small increase to the elderly and vulnerable could be the final straw for some.

We are also aware of the responsibility of Tory councillors and their colleagues at County and National government level, for their part in creating the situation and we have made it quite clear to all of them that we hold them and the aforesaid colleagues, in contempt for the austerity measures they have introduced which affects the underprivileged in society so unfairly. This is not an issue that can be swept under the carpet just because it is an embarrassment. It is our duty to ensure that the electorate is reminded of the council’s actions whenever appropriate.

In summary, whether councillors deserve, or not, to have an increase in allowances, this is an awful time to be perceived to be in the grip of avarice.

I really do appreciate you taking the time to answer my letter and I genuinely wish you and your family all the best for the New Year.

Kind regards

Richard
Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #07b – Chris Sadler
csadler@elmbridge.gov.uk

Richard,

Thank you for your reply earlier today.

I did not realistically expect you to be converted to our thinking on this matter but at least you now have a fuller picture rather than just  the spin put on part of it by the Conservatives.

If I may, I would also like to correct an inaccurate statement in your latest e-mail.

You state that “This increase comes on top of  increases in each of the last three years in line with staff pay rises.” In fact there have only been two increases in the Basic Allowance since it was established at £4245 on 1st April 2008. The first increase was 1.5%, in line with the staff pay rise, and discussed at the Cabinet meeting on 19th March 2014, taking effect from 1st April 2014. This took the Basic Allowance up from £4245 to £4309, up £64. The second increase was 2%, again in line with the staff pay rise, and discussed at the Cabinet meeting on 3rd December 2014, taking effect from 1st April 2015. This took the Basic Allowance up from £4309 to £4395, up £86.  For the current financial year 2016 /2017, there was a staff pay rise of 2%, but in light of the likelihood of fundamental changes to the Council as a result of the Boundary Commission Review, there was no meeting of the Independent Remuneration Panel in 2015, with the result that there was no increase in the Basic Allowance ( or indeed any other Allowance) in respect of the current year, which is why the Basic Allowance still is £4395 a year until next April.

I am  sure you will agree with me that it is important to get the facts right.

With best wishes for a happy and successful New Year,

Chris

Our Response to Chris Sadler (REPLY #07b)
csadler@elmbridge.gov.uk

Chris,

I am quite happy to correct any misstatement on my part but I have it on good authority from two different sources that councillors received three increases in consecutive years. Your comments admit that you received two increases with a third agreed but postponed because of a technical problem. Even you must admit that you are being somewhat pedantic in your correction.

Whatever the case the fact that you received any increases at all diminishes the statements of many of your colleagues that you haven’t had an increase since 2008. Chris, why not just admit that what the councillors did by voting for a huge 12.4% increase on top of increases already received, whether two or three, was insensitive on a colossal scale and tarnishes the image of local councillors with their constituents?

The electors will judge who has the moral high ground at future elections.

Kind regards

Richard
Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #06 – Andrew Davis
adavid@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Mr Leonard

Thank you for your email with your attached letter.

I would greatly appreciate your suggestion for the calculation of councillor remuneration.  Should councillors be paid at all?  Or should councillors be only those of independent means?  Should they work for less than the hourly rate for the living wage?

Let us take the non-London living wage hourly rate of £8.45.  Councillors, on average, work 13 hours a week throughout the year.  By my calculation that is £5,712 yearly.  Is that too much, or not enough?  What’s your view? (the London rate is £6,591).

As you might know, councillors are entitled, in law, to take time off to perform their councillor duties but their employer is not obliged to pay them.  How do we deal with that?

I do not think that there are easy answers but I would welcome your thoughts.

Regards
Andrew Davis

Our Response to Andrew Davis (REPLY #06)
adavid@elmbridge.gov.uk

Hi Andrew,

Many thanks for your prompt response to our letter regarding Councillors’ allowances. I apologise for taking so long to reply but I have had quite a few responses to the letter and have had to prioritise my replies. Your pertinent questions deserve serious consideration and answers but they really cover all aspects of councillor benefits and I have had to consider them separately.

May I start by pointing out that nowhere in our letter was it suggested that councillors should not receive allowances and indeed nowhere did it say that councillors did not deserve an increase. What it said was that it was an unbelievably insensitive time to vote yourselves an effective pay rise of 12%. The coalition National government, of which the Liberal Democrats were an influential part, inflicted the austerity programme on us which has affected vulnerable people more than most; especially after the cuts to Meals on Wheels budgets and other benefits. As we near Christmas this austerity programme will have a devastating effect on some in this borough, predominately on the elderly and therefore it was a particularly callous and unfeeling time to award yourselves this increase.

The question of how local councillors should be remunerated is a red herring in the above argument but, as I’ve said above, deserves discussion. I do not believe that councilors should be paid a wage. We have enough paid politicians such as MPs, MEPs, elected mayors and assorted ‘advisors’. You knew what you were letting yourself in for when you sought election and if it was money you were after you should not have stood, no one forced you.

I believe that councillors should receive fair expenses so that they are never out of pocket. I was a councillor for a number of years in a London borough and never met anyone who’s employer stopped their wages  because of attendance on council business, of course in my circle there were few merchant bankers, asset strippers or commodity brokers so I can’t speak for them. All employers should be obliged to cover wages for staff taking time off for council business, it is after all a necessary social service for the local community. They could then claim it against their tax bill. As most meetings are held outside of work hours, it would be interesting to know what time councillors have to take off to fulfill their role.

The hoary old excuse of ‘only those of independent means’ being able to afford to be councillors, which you quote, is out of date and evidence supports this. As you rightly say there are few easy answers but it surely is not beyond the wit of mankind to come up with a simple and affordable solution.

It doesn’t alter the fact that it was a distressing sight, watching Lib Dems queuing up to support such a heartless motion. Tim Farron must have been proud – or have you not told him?

Enjoy your Christmas meal.

Seasons greetings and kind regards

Richard
Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #06b – Andrew Davis – with attachment: report-of-the-independent-remuneration-panel.pdf
adavid@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Richard

Thank you for your considered reply.

Since before I became an adult, I felt that the remuneration of politicians, at any level, should be determined independently, comparatively, logically and transparently; and, the rules applying to one level of government should apply to all.  Finally, whatever is recommended by the independent organisation is accepted in full by the recipients.

Unlike you, I do think that councillors should be paid but I think there should be fewer of them.  I appreciate and accept that I am in a minority and I am very open to discussion on this point.  Whilst I can understand your wish for employers to be compelled to pay staff for public service provided, I am not sure that most employers could afford to do so.  Maybe there could be a threshold depending on the size of company – most companies in England are surprisingly small.  Although, if the councillors were paid appropriately there would be no need for employers to pay.   This is rather academy considering that there does not seem to be a consensus as what the role of elected representatives is.

What so often happens – as you are no doubt aware – is that when an independent organisation announces their award the politicians concerned are prevailed upon not to take the award.  Now is not the right time – it is said.  Indeed, it is never the right time.  The more often the reward is refused or watered down the more likely the remuneration becomes seriously adrift until a point is reached where a reward in a given year is much higher than the prevailing conditions.  British parliamentarians kept their publicly known incomes down but drew extra opaque income from expenses.   If only members of the British parliament had not been so craven, I doubt that we would have had the expenses scandal.

When Elmbridge decided to review the councillors’ remuneration, in anticipation of the reduction of the number of councillors from 60 to 48, I decided that, should I still be a councillor, I would accept the panel’s findings and do so at the cabinet meeting following the recommendation if was in such a position to do so.  I did this to walk my talk.  I did not want to say one thing when I was not a councillor and do another when I was.  I like to be consistent but, being human, I daresay, unwittingly, I might not be so on occasions.

My logic is that I did not vote for a pay rise but I voted to accept the panel’s recommendation whatever it might be.  Those councillors who voted against the independent panel’s recommendation voted, in my view, to overturn the independent structure that had been set up.  Because some people still argue that we voted to give ourselves a pay rise, I have asked our legal people to examine our constitution to see whether or not we can make the panel’s recommendation mandatory in future and also to explore any unintended consequences of such action.

The juxtaposition with other changes in Elmbridge is unfortunate but the timetable was set before the Liberal Democrat and Resident parties coalition came into power.  Even if we had delayed the vote, Elmbridge council meets on a six-week cycle there would always be a meeting with a report relating to some change or other to the pricing of our services.

Regarding the meals on wheels, Ruth Lyons, the portfolio holder for social affairs, spent a great amount of time with her staff when considering the pricing of the services for which she is responsible many of which are the legal responsibility of Surrey but we fund them because we think they are so important.  For instance, Elmbridge has far more day centres than other boroughs in Surrey: Elmbridge has seven; there is one in Epsom, Mole Valley, Surrey Heath and Tandridge; two in Reigate and Guildford; three in Runnymede; four in Spelthorne; five in Waverley and Woking. Of course, they also range in their facilities.  We fund them over and above other areas because of its importance.

Incidentally, I look forward to the time when we have a decent electoral system in the borough.  It cannot be right that Labour does not have a single representative elected to Elmbridge’s council given the number of people that vote Labour across the borough.  I would introduce preference voting by quarters.  In other words, a quarter of the wards would have an election each year and each ward would elect all its councillors at once by preference voting (STV).  I would suggest that Walton would have two wards consisting of five and four members and Hersham one ward of five members.   The ludicrous situation where parts of Hersham are attached to Esher and Weybridge is a result of the first-past-the-post system coupled with arithmetical niceties.

It’s a thought that the countries that voted Brexit had the moribund first-past-the-post system of election for local government –  England and Wales (although Wales is to change to STV shortly) and the countries that voted remain have the single transferable voting system of election for local government – Ireland and Scotland.  I realise that correlation is not causation but I do get a sense that the present system means that, for most people in England, most contests are a forgone conclusion.  The Conservatives have run Surrey for one hundred and forty years because of this.

There follows further information regarding the panel.

The national government under its Local Government Act of 2000 requires each local government to establish and maintain an independent remuneration panel for considering a scheme for the payment of councillors’ allowances.

The national government issued statutory guidance which provides for each local government to decide its scheme and the amounts to be paid under that scheme. This panel has the function of providing the local government with advice on its scheme, the amounts to be paid and the pensionability of allowances where relevant.  Local authorities must have regard to this advice.

The national government’s intention is that the approach should be one where questions raised as to the amounts payable to councillors are matters for local determination.  In this way, the national government intends that local authorities can take full account of their particular circumstances, including the precise form of their constitution, and be directly accountable to their electorate.  This accountability is sharpened through each local government being advised on its own allowances scheme by a local panel whose members are required to be independent.  A councillors’ allowances scheme aligned with the borough’s new constitution, to operate with effect from May 2001, was duly approved by the council in April 2001.

In 2014 the independent remuneration panel has the following as its membership:- chairman: Mark Palmer (South East Employers) Dennis Frost (who has lived in Elmbridge for over 25 years and is a retired Local Government Officer) Choudhury Ahmed (Doctor by profession, who has lived in Elmbridge for over 20 years) Gordon Manickam (local resident and Assistant Director, Regulatory Policy Committee).

The panel has undertaken a full review of the councillors’ allowances scheme for 2016/17 having regard to the boundary commission review which reduced the number of councillors from 60 to 48.  I have attached its report.

I would be most interested to read your sources on the background of councillors.  I know that Elmbridge is not typical but the majority of Elmbridge councillors appear to be of independent means.

The remuneration of portfolio holders committee chairs did not change significantly but when one includes the basic allowance these positions went up nearly 6% (5.75%).  The last time this was assessed was in 2008.  I make that an increase of 0.7% a year.  This is the sober context.

Merry Christmas and may you have a fun, fruitful and fulfilling 2017.

Regards

Andrew

Our Response to Andrew David (REPLY #06b)
adavid@elmbridge.gov.uk

Hi Andrew,

I am afraid that we are going to have to agree to disagree about local politicians being paid a wage. In my opinion, if councillors were paid it could lead some to seek to make a career of sorts out of local government, overlooking why they are there in the first place. Electors would be forgiven for complaining that local councillors ‘were just like the guys in Westminster, lining their own pockets’. Councillors could very easily be held in as much cynical esteem as MPs are now.

As a result, turnout at local elections could well be affected so that they would be even lower than the pathetic levels they are today. In my view this attitude would be bad for democracy and encourage the less than altruistic to put themselves forward as councillors for personal benefit.

With the right incentives, including taxation, employers could be persuaded that paying their staff for absences whilst on Council business was worthwhile. I don’t pretend to have a brilliant formula lying around that would fit but it would not be beyond the ability of the thinkers in government (…I know, I know!) to come up with a solution that would satisfy most people, if they can do it for mega corporations they can do it for everyone. We are talking about a relatively small amount of tax; how many small companies have more than one councillor on their staff?

The logical conclusion you came to is ingenious, you didn’t vote for the allowance increase but actually, you did. A win win position if ever there was one. Let’s be clear, you didn’t support the 12% increase but you supported the panel’s recommendation which, surprise, surprise, was to implement the 12% increase – have I got that right? I’ve repeated myself because I am so in awe of the logic. Your desire to make the panel’s recommendation mandatory flies in the face of local democracy. You and your colleagues, are elected by the constituents of Elmbridge to make difficult decisions, just as your constituents must make in their daily lives every day; you are not put there to hand over the responsibility to a non-elected organisation.

You have glossed over the timing of the vote by referring to the council meetings being held regularly and you hint at this subject being raised again. So what? Regardless of the number of occasions it was brought up you could have voted against it time and again. The increase of 12.4% will hardly affect you, or your colleagues, circumstances at home but the cuts in benefits could have a devastating effect on the underprivileged poor of Elmbridge; leadership was required at this difficult time not a display of avarice.

The composition of the Independent Remuneration Panel does not fill me with much confidence. It is unrepresentative of the people it purports to represent – the citizens of Elmbridge. In my opinion it should consist of a more typical cross section of the public, it is not only the middle class who pay rates.

My source on the background of local councillors is similar to yours, observation and experience. Hard evidence is difficult to find, how do you quantify independent means? I do remember reading some time ago that local councillors are more likely to come from working people as retired or, as you put it, from independent means, especially in inner boroughs. I am being unfair I know by not quoting the source precisely but it was probably The Guardian, still tolerated by some Lib Dems I believe! Have you considered that the reason why Elmbridge, unlike, say London Boroughs, has such a high percentage of councillors who ‘appear to be of independent means’, might be because there are so many Tory councillors?

The main point where I agree with you almost entirely is on proportional representation. I may be at odds with many of my party colleagues but as a Democratic Socialist I cannot see what argument can be put forward to justify the first-past-the-post system.  The reason we have elections is to produce a person who has the support of the majority of voters, not the person who came top of the poll with, possibly, 25% of the vote. This would mean that 75% of the electorate didn’t want them first time round.

I detest UKIP and it’s divisive policy and wish Farage would emigrate to the US or, preferably, Antartica, but it is ludicrous that a party can get 12.6% of the votes cast, 3.8million and get one seat, a defector from another party, and yet the Lib Dems with 7.9%, 2.4million votes, get eight seats. Democracy, warts and all, should be defended and pursued so that we have the wishes of the people truly represented, with all the difficulties that would entail.

I have re-read my comments and they do appear somewhat negative but that’s one of the bugbears about being the opposition, you can talk a great fight but can’t prove it till you have the chance. One day Andrew, one day!

Till then I hope that all your family have a great New Year.

Kind regards

Richard

Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #06c – Andrew Davis
adavid@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Richard

Thank you for your reply.

You might have felt your reply was negative – I did not think so.

I agree with you that there is a cynical perception of politicians out there – not entirely ungrounded.  When I talk to people on the doorstep I know that I am seen as a politician but that is not how I see myself.  I am a husband and father first, a friend, a colleague, a neighbour.  I know that I have been lucky and that I have the time to contribute to making my locality a better place in which to live, work and play.  Not something that is open to everybody.  I have no wish to be presumptuous but I suspect that you and I have a similar vision – from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs – we just might have chosen different routes to get there.  Even in politics, we have more in common than that which divides us.  Have you read Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari?  According to him, if we humans don’t hang together we’ll assuredly hang separately.

Best wishes

Andrew

Our Response to Andrew David (REPLY #06c)
adavid@elmbridge.gov.uk

Andrew,

Many thanks for your reply.

I have just downloaded The Summary of Homo Deus onto my Kindle. If I can get my little brain round it I will read the full monty. I will keep you posted.

I agree that there are  a number of ways of approaching and solving, most problems. For me, I haven’t found a better system for the human race than socialism, which, flaws and all, has never been truly implemented anywhere in the World, to my knowledge. Capitalism has failed time and time again and yet the world still embraces it; to quote Samuel Johnson, it is a matter of ‘the triumph of hope over experience’. Or as we socialists would say ‘the triumph of the rich over the poor’.

To quote another renowned scribe (I’m on a roll now), Pete Seeger, ‘…when will we ever learn…’. Ah well, we can but dream.

Kind regards

Richard
Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

Our Response to Andrew David (REPLY #06c)
adavid@elmbridge.gov.uk

Andrew,

I have just looked through a summary of Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. Having read the summary, which wasn’t put together very well and contained a large number of grammatical errors, not by Harari of course, I doubt that I have the inner strength to read the full version. It’s a bit like listening to a Leonard Cohen LP, if you’re not depressed when you started you will be by the time you finish. His lack of hope for the human race is truly miserable. Perhaps the full book is more positive but just in case I have locked away any spare razor blades I had lying around.

I will stick to the analysis you quote: if we humans don’t hang together we’ll assuredly hang separately – which is bad enough!

Hope you have a Happy New Year.

Regards

Richard
Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #05 – Andrew Kelly
akelly@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Mr Leonard,

Thank you for your email regarding the allowances increases.

As you know, the Conservative Group were against the 12.4% increase. I proposed the amendment reducing this to 2%, the same as the increase for the Council’s employees. My own views and thoughts are set out on my blog here: https://cllrandrewkelly.wordpress.com/2016/12/08/snouts-in-the-trough-the-walton-societys-priorities/.

I am still at a loss as to why the RA/LD coalition thought such an increase was acceptable – it’s wrong at any time but even more so at the this current time.  Walton Society leader Cllr Chris Sadler claimed in the local press afterwards part of their reason for their decision was my Group’s “political mischief-making” at the Council meeting. This strikes me a childish reaction to the opposition party doing what we are there to do – oppose decisions we believe are wrong and not in the public interest.

I note from your website, Cllr Roy Green has stated in his reply to you that the basic allowance for Councillors has not increased for many years. He is quite wrong – the last three years we got increases in line with the Council’s employees increase. Cllr Green clearly believes we deserve more than our own staff. At the Council meeting one LibDem Councillor claimed it was quite acceptable for us to get this increase as basically it was back pay for the years of freezes during the Conservative administration. Our employees got freezes for many of these years – yet the RA/LD administration does not believe they deserve this back pay increase.

Kind Regards,

Andrew
Cllr Andrew Kelly
Councillor for Walton North
Elmbridge Borough Council

REPLY #04 – Michael Bennison
mbennison@elmbridge.gov.uk

Mr Richard Leonard

If you do a little bit of research you will find that this was a recorded vote  and as far as I know all conservatives voted against it. It is a matter of record please check with Elmbridge Borough Council or watch the video.

REPLY #03 – Ian Donaldson
iandonaldson@elmbridge.gov.uk

Thank you for your email.

“You stated so we are at a loss to understand the reasoning behind Elmbridge councillors’ decision to  award themselves a 12 % increase in their annual allowances, (council meeting on 9th December)  while at the same time increasing charges for Meals on Wheels, lunches for the elderly at Community Centres and transportation to these venues. ”

If read Cllr Elmer’s reply and view the Council’s webcast http://elmbridge.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/257124 it was the Independent / Resident and Liberal coalition that made the increase of the allowances and charges including car parks.

We, the Conservative group opposed these so please do not group us with them. Many thanks and a Happy Christmas.

Cllr I Donaldson – Conservative Councillor for Weybridge St George’s Hill

Our Response to Ian Donaldson (REPLY #03)
iandonaldson@elmbridge.gov.uk

Hi Ian,

Many thanks for your reply and I apologise for taking so long to acknowledge it. I find it is better not to ask a question unless one knows the answer before hand. We were well aware of the voting patterns on the increase of councillors allowances and Heaven forbid that we should lump the Conservatives in with the Lib Dems… the Residents… well that’s a different matter.

I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

Kind regards

Richard
Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #02 – Roy Green
rgreen@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Richard,

Thank your for your email regarding allowances.

As you may be aware provision of services for elderly fall to thee Surrey County Council not Elmbridge.

Elmbridge through a long historical tradition however do provide Day Centres, meals on Wheels and transport paid for by local tax payers. Surrey has been making a contribution towards this, but have decided to make heavy cuts to their contribution.

What do percentages actually mean, not much when it comes to increases, which are very low and as you say such services are not provided by some other councils.

Councillors have not had an increase in their allowances since 2007 and the increase is recommended by an Independent panel, staff have had 2% in creases for the last five years.

We thought long and hard before deciding to make these increases but due to the severe cuts forced on us by Surrey, this was the only way we could continue to provide the services to the elderly which are very much appreciated.

As a matter of interest can you tell me why the Last Labour Government increased council/social housing rents by 40% taking them up to what Prescott called market levels?

Or why a cheap food like Fish and Chips had VAT imposed on it by a Labour government, surely that also hit the elderly and the poor?

Perhaps you may like to attend a Cabinet meeting and get a better understanding of why we have to take the decisions we do being forced to by an uncaring Tory Government.

Merry Christmas

Roy Green

Our Response to Roy Green (REPLY #02)
rgreen@elmbridge.gov.uk

Hi Roy,

Thank you for your prompt reply to my letter regarding councillors’ allowances. It is much appreciated.

Unfortunately, in your haste to demolish our argument, you missed the entire theme of the letter which was to point out that the timing of the vote was unfortunate to say the least and insulting/humiliating at worse. Also your anxiety to belittle our stance in favour of the underprivileged, has led to you producing an incoherent, contradictory and confusing message. But I suppose if one leaps into bed with the Lib Dems, who were part of the coalition National government and helped to introduce the current austerity measures, one has to attempt to justify it somehow.

I am disappointed that someone as experienced a local politician as yourself should make fundamental blunders in your argument which calls into question your grasp of salient facts. You ask me to justify why a Labour government imposed VAT on Fish and Chips, of course I cannot do that simply because it didn’t; the VAT on Fish and Chips was introduced in 1984 by Nigel Lawson who, I’m sure you will remember, was the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Tory government led by Margaret Thatcher. Fish and Chip fryers of Hersham will, no doubt, be impressed by your keen interest in their product.

You go on to say ‘Councillors have not had an increase in their allowances since 2007 and the increase is recommended by an Independent panel, staff have had 2% in creases for the last five years’. However, I understand that over the last three years councillors received increases in their allowances in line with the Councils’ employees increase.  Are you losing the plot Roy?

Your suggestion that I ‘…attend a Cabinet meeting and get a better understanding…’ is patronising and rude. You don’t know me and the implication that I am ignorant of how Councils discharge their fiscal duties is arrogance.  For your information, I was a councillor for a number of years on a London Borough and was Vice chairman of the Finance Committee.

I hope that your Christmas meal is a plentiful one.

Kind regards and Seasons Greetings,

Richard

Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #01 – Christine Elmer
celmer@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Mr Leonard,  cc as before

Thank you for your email. This matter was resolved by the Full Council at it’s meeting on 7 December and the full debate is on the Council’s webcast which will enable you to see the position I took.

Regards,
Christine Elmer
Cllr Walton South ward

REPLY #01b – Christine Elmer
celmer@elmbridge.gov.uk

Dear Richard,

Thanks for your further email. Regards your comments about Cllr Bennison’s reply, I am very sure it was not meant at all as you read it. All Mike was doing, was as I did also, was refer you to the webcast and voting record.

Regards the increases in Meals on Wheels and some other community support services, I was present at the November Cabinet meeting when this was proposed. As is recorded on the webcast as the previous Portfolio Holder I spoke to this item, and all sides agreed this was regrettable and was not something that Elmbridge Council wished to do. However the rises in Meals on Wheels were small to keep up with increased costs in food and transport, and as we have found in the past the users of the services would rather small increases year on year, to keep the services. All these services are of course discretionary, and entirely possible because of the fantastic volunteers Elmbridge has who help to deliver the meals. The increases in the Relief Care services, were large, and as a result of the loss of SCC funding this year.

Kind regards,

Christine Elmer

Our Response to Christine Elmer (REPLY #01b)
celmer@elmbridge.gov.uk

Christine,

Many thanks for your response. I don’t think I misread the tone of Mike’s comments.

I am aware that the bulk of the funding, which was cut from Meals on Wheels and Relief Care, came from SCC and I understand your position. It doesn’t take away from the fact that it was as a direct result of this and the austerity measures put in place by your own National Government that has caused the problems in the first place. I agree that the volunteers who provide transport etc. do a remarkable job but I’m sure you would agree that in the 21st Century, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, for society to have to rely on volunteers to provide a compassionate and caring service is disgraceful.

But I think I have said enough on this subject and I appreciate all the comments I have received. It is better to have a dialogue than open hostility.

May I wish everyone a Good New Year when it arrives.

Regards

Richard
Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

REPLY #01c – Christine Elmer
celmer@elmbridge.gov.uk

Leonard,

I am sorry I misdirected you the wrong month, the Cabinet report the Community Support charges came to was in October 2016. There is no doubt that the SCC reductions in funding (£197k) had an impact and the most impact was felt in the increase in charges for some services in Relief Care.  However where you say bulk of the funding, which was cut from Meals on Wheels and Centre meals, it was actually the cost of meals was increased by 20p due to increased costs of food. The SCC funding position has been known for some while and while it is never good to increase charges I feel sure we would have taken the same position on these small increases. Most Councils in Surrey charge over £4.00 for meals and is true to say Elmbridge Council subsidises these services and other community support services.

I have to disagree with your view of the Elmbridge Volunteers. Elmbridge has a vibrant voluntary and community sector with more than 300 organisations providing a vide array of services across the Borough. The council benefits from around 600 residents who regularly give time to help provide services from meals on wheels, in community centre tea-bars, as Countryside rangers and the Healthy Walks programme. Elmbridge is rightly proud of the volunteers, some of who have received commendations for over 30 years volunteering. People do this because they want to and I don’t see this as wrong so I am surprised if you or your party do.

Regards,

Christine Elmer

Our Response to Christine Elmer (REPLY #01c)
celmer@elmbridge.gov.uk

Christine,

My views on volunteers are mine and mine alone. I have never discussed with other members of any party whether they support my views or not. Many are themselves volunteers.

My point was that in a wealthy society, to have to rely on volunteers to perform caring roles is disgraceful. It is a matter of society getting our spending policies right and closing the loopholes that the rich use to limit their tax liabilities, cash that should be used to help the underprivileged. I did say that I fully support volunteers as they fulfil a necessary function due to various governments shirking their responsibilities. You say they do it because they want to, maybe they also do it because if they don’t the government won’t and they, the volunteers, have a conscience.

Whatever the pros and cons of volunteers, it is a clever way to divert the argument from the callous austerity actions of a heartless government.

At least we are having a serious debate – when did that last happen amongst our local parties?

I sincerely wish you and all of your family a very good New Year.

Regards

Richard
Richard Leonard
Secretary, Walton and Hersham Labour Party

Our Original WHLP Letter to all the Elmbridge Borough Councillors

Dear Councillor,

This is supposed to be the season of goodwill,  so we are at a loss to understand the reasoning behind Elmbridge councillors’ decision to  award themselves a 12 % increase in their annual allowances, (council meeting on 9th December)  while at the same time increasing charges for Meals on Wheels, lunches for the elderly at Community Centres and transportation to these venues.

Shamefully, less than half of councils in the country are still providing a meals on wheels service since the Tories came to power in 2010. We applaud the much-needed elderly meals provision in our borough, but surely Elmbridge councillors should think twice before imposing additional charges on essential services for these elderly and vulnerable residents whilst at the same time giving themselves unjustified allowance increases?

Austerity is having a severe and dramatic effect on the most defenceless and needy in our society, not just the elderly but those who are struggling with cuts to benefits and low pay.  It is vitally important that those in positions where they can change people’s lives for the better show some sensitivity and empathy towards these exposed people. We would therefore ask you to do the decent thing and try to “just about manage” on what you have already, as many of your constituents are currently being forced to do.

Have a Merry Christmas.

Regards
Richard Leonard
Secretary – Walton and Hersham Labour Party

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