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Councillors Access To LGPS

Thursday, July 11, 2013

GMB Submission To DCLG Consultation Says Case For Ending Councillors Access To Pension Scheme Has Not Been Made

The underlying impression given by the consultation paper confirms the low regard in which central Government holds their locally or regionally elected counterparts says GMB.

GMB, the union for public services workers, published its response to the proposal from Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) that pension provision for elected councillors and officer holders be ended with them no longer allowed to be in the Local Government Pension Scheme. See notes to editors for copy of submission.

Brian Strutton, GMB National Secretary for Public Services, said “In our view the underlying impression given by the consultation paper confirms the low regard in which central Government holds their locally or regionally elected counterparts.

DCLG has drawn very fine distinctions between politicians who are viewed as operating at different levels. The case is made that Greater London Authority members, representing a tier of local government, are paid a salary. The same is true of Police Commissioners. GMB does not believe that, despite the distinction in a salary being paid, there is significant difference between the political roles carried out by these differing functions.

 GMB would agree with a tiered member contribution structure that would bring these LGPS members in line with employee counterparts. This case for tiering has been long made and is widely accepted and it would seem appropriate to apply a tiered structure here.

 We do have concerns about the disparity between the published table and the contribution structure applying to employees and would welcome moves to align the rates to a uniform level (on the proviso that there is no significant deviation from the overall desired yield).

GMB strongly supports Option 3 as set out in the consultation document. The case for changing the potential for access has not been made. However GMB would be willing to discuss the restructuring of contribution rates for councillors.

End

Contact: Brian Strutton 07860 606 137 or Phil McEvoy on 07918 768 773 or GMB press office 07921 289880 or 07974 251 823

Notes to Editors

 DCLG CONSULTATION ON PENSIONS FOR COUNCILLORS AND OTHER ELECTED OFFICER HOLDERS

 GMB Response - 4 July 2013

GMB RESPONSE TO DCLG CONSULTATION ON PENSIONS FOR COUNCILLORS AND OTHER ELECTED OFFICER HOLDERS

INTRODUCTION

1. GMB is the UK's third largest union representing 620,000 members. Our membership includes a large proportion who are employed in public service, by central Government, Local Government and by private sector contractors who are providing a public service. We also have a large number of politicians including MPs and local councillors in our membership.

2. GMB welcomes the opportunity to formally give our view on pension provision for elected councillors and officer holders.

3. From the outset we must register our great concern at the proposals that have been put forward as well as the tone of the consultation document. In our view the underlying impression given by the document confirms the low regard in which central Government holds their locally or regionally elected counterparts.

4. Many of these local elected members have expressed their dismay at the consultation.

We have included anonymised sentiments that have been directly expressed to us. These are highlighted in bold italics. For example:

“The consultation says England only and I am a Cllr in Wales though still totally opposed to this move”

THE CASE FOR CHANGE NOT ADEQUATELY MADE

5. DCLG have drawn very fine distinctions between politicians who are viewed as operating at different levels. The case is made that Greater London Authority members, representing a tier of local government, are paid a salary. The same is true of Police Commissioners. GMB does not believe that, despite the distinction in a salary being paid, there is significant difference between the political roles carried out by these differing functions.

6. The case is also made that Councillors are volunteers, representing their local community. This viewpoint could ultimately open up an uncomfortable can of worms for other politicians, about whom the same could be said. Standing for election is a voluntary act on behalf of any individual no matter in what capacity. The fact that no salary is paid to councillors speaks volumes about the public service ethos held by many such councillors. This ethos should be central to any individual seeking election in any capacity. GMB agrees that elected office should not be sought for reward as that would produce poor government at all levels; but we do believe that carrying out a public service should be accompanied by a fair level of recompense.

7. GMB is also mindful of the stark contrast between MPs pension rights and those of councillors, with the former still enjoying unreformed final salary access. GMB believes that we would be among many to point out the apparent hypocrisy of any move to remove the facility for councillors pension whilst comparable elected officials retain access to a scheme that remains untouched and vastly generous compared to the rest of the public sector.

8. In considering the differences between different types of elected official GMB is mindful for the great potential for an indirectly discriminate approach to be adopted, by allowing particular levels of elected official access to pension arrangements and not others.

9. DCLG also offers an argument that payment of allowances, with associated pension rights, could have a negative effect on local democracy and the independence of councillors. Whilst we would wholeheartedly disagree with this entirely groundless suggestion; we would once again draw the distinction with other elected officials and the fact that no concerns have been offered about negative effects there. In addition it is important to note that the issue of pensionability of allowances is subject to the recommendation of an independent remuneration committee.

“We do not support central government telling local government who can and cannot be in the LGPS”

“I do believe that elected councillors should have access to the scheme, if they wish. I disagree with option one that the government is proposing and stopping access to the scheme. I also feel restricting access to front benchers only would be wrong. However given the hard fought pension provisions we have achieved in the past couple of years through industrial action, i believe Councillors contributions should be brought in line with our ordinary members and contributions based on the amount of allowance and special responsibility payments they receive.”

THE REALITY ABOUT THE WORK OF LOCAL COUNCILLORS

10. GMB strongly believes that DCLG either does not understand, or worse, greatly undervalues the work that is done by local councillors. We have received a number of comments from councillors in relation to this consultation. A selection of these are given below:

 “I for one have been a councillor, with a short gap, since 1970 and took up the opportunity to join the scheme as soon as it became available. I certainly remember all of the preceding years that members pressed to be able to join the scheme without success.

I am bound to say that there is little incentive for people in work, to stand to be councillors and losing there pension rights, if becoming full time, which many of us are, thereby cutting a several generations out of representing their community and keeping authorities to be populated by councillors with either enough wealth not to be worried and probably not needing to work, or those who have retired and are able to live on a pension or pensions and/or can fit in a part-time job. This hardly meets Government so-called aims to make local authorities more representative of the population as a whole.”

“I devote myself to my ward - one of the most deprived in the South East - full time. I make no expenses claims beyond my allowance and have no other income. The govt wants to stop me saving for a pension and, if Grant Shapps is to be believed, they want to axe allowances too. We should have independently set allowances that are mindful of the pressures on public spending, but which enable a representative cross-section of the public to be able to participate in local government. There should be no return to the days of the "great and the good", the wealthy and retired, dominating public life.”

“I have been an elected Councillor for 23 of the last 27 years. I was elected aged 26 and am now 53. For much of that time I have been a senior "front bench" Councillor. My current allowance (basic plus SRA) is £22,000, the highest being £28,000 when I was Deputy Leader for 2 years. As a Cabinet member I have clearly had senior responsibility for strategic and resource decisions which have a major impact on our staff and on the community. Whilst I don't have to be a full-time Councillor, I am almost so. From 1986 - 1984 I twin-tracked, and my (relatively junior) job allowed me to finish work at around 5.30 to get on to Council meetings. I had a four-year break from elected office, when my children were born/small and then was re-elected to the Councli, whilst also working part-time in local government, until stopping my alternative career completely in 2002. Council work has been my major or sole occupation and source of income whilst we have been in control of the Council i e from 2000 - 2006 and since 2006. Therefore my "career" has effectively been as a senior Councillor, but unlike other careers which lead up to senior levels, we don't get a growth in pay. I'm not arguing for greater remuneration, but for someone like me, being able to pay into a pension as I didn't have an alternative through a properly paid job, would have been sensible. I don't have the benefit of pension arrangements as our authority opted to stay out of the pension scheme for Councillors in 2003 - a decision that will massively affect my income on retirement. In fact it could lead me and others in my position to stay on a s Councillors, well beyond our "use-by" date. The average age of Councillors is now 60, and stopping access to pensions will only further the rise in this figure.”

 “I have been a councillor since 2010 and prior to that I worked in the University sector, NHS and local authority sectors and finally working as a self-employed consultant. Last time I was employed in the public sector in the mid 1990s my salary was approx. £35,000. As a self employed consultant my take home pay was significantly higher than my council allowances. By choosing to enter public service as a councillor I have made significant financial sacrifices.

I am a cabinet member and regularly work in excess of a 40 hour week. We have a lot of out of hours commitments in the evenings and weekends which causes additional pressure (I have a school aged child). The last three months (between Christmas and the budget decisions being made in my portfolio in mid April) have been extremely difficult. The budget decisions we have had to make and implement have been unpopular and resulted in a great deal of correspondence and also meeting with user groups. I have found it difficult to sleep and have experienced a lot of personal stress and anxiety.

In addition, of course, I have my ward councillor responsibilities to the people who elected me.

For this I am paid the basic allowance of £11,742.45 and an SRA of £9,683.86. This is a low level of remuneration for the level of responsibility I have.

For a cabinet member in one of the core cities I feel this is very low and I worry how we will attract good people to take on these key responsibilities – only people who have other sources of income or support will be able to take on these time consuming roles which do not allow much scope for other paid work.

For me a contributory pension based on lifetime earnings is a very important: it indicates that the work we do is of value and it also means that colleagues who have devoted themselves to public service do not end up in poverty in their old age. For me personally it means that I will continue to have some financial independence once I retire and will not be dependent on my partner or on the state to top up my income. Most importantly if the Government persist in hounding local councillors in this

way it just confirms what little value they place on what we do. I am seriously considering standing down in 2016 as the pressures are so great and the value placed on what we do so little. The loss of the pension entitlement would sway me in favour of standing down. “

 “I am a 30-year old female Councillor in my first year of Office.

The comments made by Grants Shapps about Councillors being 'volunteers' and 'Scout Leaders' clearly exemplifies how out of touch he is with the work that Councillors do.

In the same month as being selected as a candidate to stand for election, I got made redundant from my job and have since been unable to secure permanent employment. Having suspected that I might have been turned down for numerous job opportunities because of my Councillor role, this fear was confirmed when at my last interview, I was told that I had too many time commitments as a Councillor to be considered for a part-time job paying minimum wage (far less than I've earned in the past).

So, as a young woman who would like to start a family soon, I've had to put my life on hold for the sake of being a Councillor because no-one will employ me.

Don't get me wrong though. I absolutely adore being a Councillor and it might as well be a full-time job at times for the amount of time and attention I put into it. Arguably, for the purpose of making decisions that change people's lives, and playing a part in multi-million pound contracts, it ought to be a full-time job. And one that attracts an appropriate salary to go with it.

At Sheffield, a member such as me with no additional responsibilities, receives a basic allowance of £11,742, a little more than the equivalent of minimum wage for a full-time job.

As this is the only income I receive, my husband and I have had to cut back on spending and also reconsider our plans for starting a family.

Now I don't mean to blame being a Councillor for not getting a job because, at the end of the day, we are in a recession and jobs are hard to come by. But being a Councillor has made it more difficult. However, I do believe that the gravity of decisions we have to make in Council should attract a higher allowance, which would make it easier for people like me to make this an occupation - not a voluntary position.

A voluntary position implies that one can just walk away from the role whenever they wish, that there isn't too much responsibility and that you don't have serious decisions to make.

When Grant Shapps first made his comments about Councillors being volunteers, I invited him through Twitter to come and spend a day with me and a couple of other Councillors so that he could really get to grips with what it is we do - that offer still stands.

We've just gone through an excruciating process to remove £50 million from the Council budget. This has required numerous meetings at all times of day. Sleepless nights. Headaches and tears. It's been one of the most stressful experiences of my life, especially knowing the terrible impact it will have on some of our most vulnerable people. I've worried that people will die because of the cuts being made and evidence suggests that suicide rates are going up and people are having to choose between heating and eating. That burden of responsibility lies firmly on our shoulders as Councillors. So to say that we are just volunteers is quite frankly an insult.

Now it's true to say that not all Councillors put in the same amount of time and effort. Some work extremely hard and I count myself as one. Others do very little at all. To get round this, I think it would help to have a standard job description as you would in regular employment. Therefore, if someone is not fulfilling their role then there are ways and means of addressing that other than waiting until the next election. A higher allowance would also be of great benefit.

In Sheffield, I am one of 5/6 'young' Councillors. The demographic of Councils across the country will fail to become more representative in terms of age (and gender and ethnicity etc) if Councillors are neither properly recognised nor rewarded for their work. And that also includes keeping our LGA pension.”

11. These represent a flavour of those submitted to GMB in relation to this consultation. In GMB’s opinion they give accurate and personal testimonials of the undertakings of a local councillor. To belittle the efforts of these individuals by failing to properly recognise the opportunities given up and denying access to pension savings is deeply insulting and represents a flawed ideology.

12. GMB would share the concerns that failing to properly encourage citizens to undertake public service by becoming local councillors would result in a system whereby the only ones who felt inclined to stand as councillors would be those who felt financially secure enough to do so, or those who are in receipt of a pension. GMB does not believe that it would be anyone’s intention to deliberately or inadvertently seek to skew the demographics of elected representatives in this way.

CONTRIBUTION RATES

13. GMB would agree with a tiered member contribution structure that would bring these LGPS members in line with employee counterparts. This case for tiering has been long made and is widely accepted and it would seem appropriate to apply a tiered structure here.

14. We do have concerns about the disparity between the published table and the contribution structure applying to employees and would welcome moves to align the rates to a uniform level (on the proviso that there is no significant deviation from the overall desired yield).

SUMMARY

15. GMB strongly supports Option 3 as set out in the consultation document. The case for changing the potential for access has not been made. However GMB would be willing to discuss the restructuring of contribution rates for councillors.

 

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