To be an effective councillor you need to read the paperwork and there is a lot of it. I have been reading the small print for Thursday’s full council meeting. That includes Shropshire Council’s draft Corporate Plan. I have comments to make on the details of this plan but one detail of the report stands out by an uncomfortable mile.
Among a portfolio of targets spread over four pages, the Corporate Plan states that elected councillors need only complete one project within their communities each year.
This is risible. Measures should either be warning indicators, triggering action if they are too high or low, or targets designed to improve performance. One councillor completing one project with their community a year is hardly stretching. It’s a real yawn.
Nearly all of the other measures in the Corporate Plan are vital indicators. Here is a small selection.
How people using the adult social care service rate their quality of life. What proportion of 15 year olds are physically active for at least one hour a day, seven days a week. The number of children with Child Protection Plans. The percentage of premises with access to superfast broadband.
These are really serious indicators.
So what should councillors be doing and how should they be measured?
To be honest, I don’t know what many councillors do in their wards. Our local team in Ludlow is very active. You can’t miss that from all the work with do with media and communication. But there are councillors across the county who rarely appear in the media and communicate little about what they do. I am sure that they are doing more than turning up to committees. It is just we don’t know much about it.
I think we need to know. This is a question of public accountability. Councillors are elected and communications should not be restricted to the run up to elections. It always surprises me that few Shropshire councillors use social media – other than email.
We are also paid an annual ‘allowance’ as £11,514. This is really a wage and it is paid PAYE monthly. So we need to account for that.
At tomorrow’s council, the new Green Party councillor, Duncan Kerr is calling for a 10% cut in councillor’s allowances. Maybe he can afford that. I can’t. I work at least four days a week as a councillor and most weeks I think I need more time. The £11.5K allows me to turn away professional writing work so I can get to meetings, write blogs like this and deal with the growing load of policy and casework.
If we cut allowances, then we will discourage anyone except the wealthy, and usually retired, from standing for council. I am not broke but I am not wealthy. I am certainly not retired.
So how should we measure what councillors are doing?
I believe that councillors should be pretty free agents. I don’t want myself or want others to have arbitrary performance targets. Even if it is set at the low level of one project a year. (And what is a ‘project’ anyway?)
My view is that councillors should produce an annual report on their activities. This should published on the Shropshire Council website. It should also be published on the councillors’ own websites – and all councillors should have a website. The annual report be considered by the parishes and town the councillor represents.
I don’t think we should worry too much about what is in the annual report. The usual peer and political pressures will ensure that after a few years, the reports will reach a high standard.
Do I produce an annual report? I confess that I don’t. Should I? Let me know.