Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Art of Hypocrisy - Cambridgeshire Lib Dems

We are having quite a spat in Cambridgeshire about Councillors' allowances.  Not helped by some issues with how the setting up of our independent panel was managed.

The rules (Nationally) state that our allowances have to be looked at every four years by an independent panel.  This is not to deal with inflation - that is normally linked to staff pay rises - and, like others, we have not had an inflationary rise for at least two years.  This change is to revisit the role of Councillors, to examine workloads and structures, marry it up against other circumstances and make recommendations.

The difficult bit is that Councillors have to then vote to agree the results of the panel, something I am deeply uncomfortable about.  My view is that this is flawed and creates the sort of controversy we are seeing at the moment, I believe the recommendations of these panels should be implemented automatically - councils should not be voting on their own allowances.  Because of this view, I have always said I would support the recommendations of any panel, whether it raised or lowered allowances, that is what I said during the debate and why I voted for an increase in allowances.  This is my speech:
What really disappointed me is that Cambridgeshire Lib Dems said virtually nothing during the debate leading up to that vote.  Their Leader spoke for about 40 seconds, but the rest said nothing.  I tweeted at the time that it smacked of cowardice and I stand by that.  When I put that feeling to a couple of Lib Dem Councillors after the meeting, they told me that they had an agreed group policy to say nothing.  They have now put out some sort of press release that says they "firmly opposed" a rise in allowances. That claim is utter balderdash.

Why does this matter?  Well, the vote last week was a free vote.  That meant that the party politics was taken out of the debate and therefore there was an argument to be won in the chamber, so those who opposed a rise had a responsibility to make their case.  Indeed Councillor Nichola Harrison, an independent Councillor, said that she had been persuaded to vote for the increase based on what was said in the chamber.  I suspect if a strong case had been made against the rise, some of those who supported it might have voted the other way.  Given that two people switching votes would have tied the result.  It is easily argued that the weak, cowardly and opportunistic approach taken by the Lib Dems during the debate contributed to the Yes vote winning,  So to now kick up a fuss and claim they "firmly opposed" is utter hypocrisy. Just to reinforce the point, the Lib Dem group leader at the time agreed to the panel being set up and, as of last night, Cambridgeshire Lib Dems website had absolutely no comment or press releases about the issue.

The debate and vote about allowances, including the decision to go along with an independent panel and raise allowances is not what damages politics, what really does harm are the sort of duplicitous games the Lib Dems are playing.  I want to make it plain, I am happy with the result - I believe accepting the outcome of the independent panel's deliberations (whether it recommends increases or otherwise) is the right thing to do.

Incidentally - the report of the independent panel can be found here

Thanks to Richard Taylor for the video.

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