Two simple things - Saving our local services

January 22, 2021 12:00 PM
By Zulf Ali

Last week an article appeared in the Manchester Evening News telling a familiar story - an important council post being cut to save money. You may agree with the cut, you may not - but you will agree that it is the latest in a long line of services and facilities the council has cut over the last decade. You will almost certainly be aware that the squeeze on council budgets comes from Westminster - and probably feel a reasonable degree of sympathy for a council forced to make incredibly difficult decisions in order to balance the books. Afterall, they are doing everything they can...

But, are they?

Are there possibly some areas of the budget that could be reviewed to free up vital cash to support our services. Is there an area of budget which never gets reviewed and has actually grown during austerity? Should the budget for the councillors themselves be open to review?

Two Simple Things:

Payrise?

Just over a week ago an article appeared in the Sunderland Echo. An independent panel had recommended a 12% increase in pay for councillors. However, considering the financial situation in the city; with cash challenges similar to ours - a cross party coalition of councillors rejected the recommendation.

In 2016, a similar panel recommended a 34% increase for Rochdale councillors. The Rochdale Liberal Democrat group rejected the pay rise - after years of austerity and with no end in sight, accepting a pay rise for providing a public service seemed plain wrong. Sadly unlike their colleagues in Sunderland a coalition of Rochdale Labour and Tory councillors approved the pay rise. Rochdale Lib Dems have still not accepted it.

After five years, that pay rise amounts to more than £700,000. Would we still be talking about cutting important posts and services if Rochdale councillors had declined the pay rise?

Rochdale Council Chamber

Westminster on Roch?

When you vote for a councillor, you are maybe thinking of someone who will sort out issues with bins, fly tipping, potholes and other such mundane nuisances. You might be surprised. Like the Westminster government, Rochdale has a cabinet with an extensive range of roles from housing to business, public health and education. Each of those posts - and there are many - gets a supplementary allowance. Sometimes this is more than the basic allowance. At a time when the most common complaint about politicians is that they are remote and inaccessible - are these cabinet roles and their associated allowances really necessary. Should councillors not be judged on casework for the residents in their ward alone?

In 2020, and largely unnoticed in the depth of the COVID pandemic, a great opportunity was missed. The Electoral Boundaries Commission reassessed Rochdale in preparation for the 2022 'all out' council elections. As part of the process, there was the chance to reassess the number of councillors who form the council. Rochdale Lib Dems suggested a council of around fifty members - rather than the current sixty. Although we were excluded from the process by the Council Leadership, our proposal document for a slim-line council was submitted to the Boundaries Commission. In the end, the proposal submitted by a coalition of Labour & Tory councillors was accepted - retaining all sixty councillors. Is a smaller council another way to preserve important services in the borough - perhaps with some money left over to invest in the future?

It is tempting to suggest that some people are doing very nicely out of their roles on the council - for the record, we don't believe that is the case - but that is not really the point. After years of austerity and unrelenting pressure on the provision of vital services - is now the time to re-think the council's scale and function? What do you think? Take our survey and let me know:

Take The Survey (Rochdale Liberal Democrats)

Zulf Ali (Central Rochdale Liberal Democrats)

Zulf Ali

Governance Spokesperson, Rochdale Liberal Democrats