Earlier this week I was in one of those meetings I would really rather not have to do.
At Full Council next week we are being asked to approve the recommendation for an effective doubling of the Council Leaders' pay. I'm not going into the pros and cons here as they've been well rehearsed.
As a result of the earlier debate however, Warren Bradley, Steve Radford and I met the panel of individuals who make the recommendations to ask some questions.
I was very concerned that what we are being asked to support is based on a report with virtually no evidence. Even those who support a pay hike would, I hope, believe that councillors ought to be considering reports with statements backed up by evidence and in which statements have clear relevance. I hope they would also believe that this should be considered without reference to the individual circumstances of the people involved (difficult though that is). We were promised the back up information to evidence the arguments, so hopefully that will arrive by Wednesday.
But we went on from talking about this one example to discussing how this whole issue of payments to elected members ought to be treated.
At the moment it seems to be rather ad hoc. Individuals or groups apply to the panel about particular circumstances and the panel then consider and either agree or don't with what's being said.
I have to say I felt very uncomfortable with this . I suspect that even if I felt I was hugely underpaid I would never as an indvidual feel easy about asking them to look into it. If this was my actual employment, I wouldn't hesitate. But because we are talking about public service I just wouldn't want to make an approach, and I am sure others would feel the same. After all you don't stand for election as a Councillor in order to earn money and there is a blurring between career and public service here that is quite worrying.
It also makes little sense to do this in an ad hoc way. It means the independent panel can't really control their workload as who's to say what level of contact or requests they will get. It could be none.. or it could be something that suddenly needs a lot of research and it's not really fair on them to put them in that position.
The idea came up that the panel ought to take a complete look at everyone's roles, and perhaps carry out a series of interviews to really understand what elected members do. The assumption in the past that it is all about turning up to meetings is false now as I reckon for every hour I spend at an official meeting I spend many more doing other councillor stuff. There was quite a bit of enthusiasm for a proper review so I expect we'll see that happening. If everything is looked at at once it will at least seem fair and depersonalised.
It's one of these topics that is quite hard to discuss. We need to make sure that people who are not independently wealthy can still be Councillors and that does mean some money. But we also need to make sure that we don't turn it into just another career option because surely it's about more than that.
I don't have the answers and this might be one of those subjects where actually there are no easy answers. But we need to sort out a way of doing this that doesn't end up revolving around personalities.