Mar 10 2013

Harrow Councillors – Are they working for you? A followup

harrow_council_logo2As a follow-up to our article about how often Councillors attended meetings (and, of course, how many meetings they were expected to attend), we asked both of Harrow’s Labour and Conservative groups for their input and thoughts:

Labour said:

As you may be aware, Councillors work hard and try to improve the quality of life of their constituents, and address their concerns. They must balance the needs and interests of residents, with that of the Council, and their Party unless of course they do not belong to any particular Party, and are Independent. They attend Council meetings, and community events to get to improve their engagement with the people they represent.

The mark of a Councillor’s hard work and commitment to his or her duties is not necessarily campaigning during by-elections. Indeed many Councillors focus on supporting their constituents and advocating for them, which often extends outside normal working hours.

The allowance is £8K approx and if all the hours Councillors put in was computed, for many, they would be earning below the minimum wage. I am sure that constituents understand that sadly, emergencies do occur, and that Councillors are not immune to illness, family emergencies, bereavement etc.

With regards to Council meetings, if a Councillor is absent for 6 months, he or she is disqualified and a by-election can be called, unless a majority of Councillors vote otherwise. I am sure that residents understand that sadly, emergencies do occur, and Councillors are not immune to emergencies, illness, bereavement etc

It is important that there is an understanding of the work Councillors do, which might not necessarily match every resident’s expectation of what a Councillor should be doing. In addition to the ‘visible’ work on the Council which you can measure through attendance, there is the ‘invisible’ work such as Advice Surgeries, meeting with Resident and Tenant Associations, meetings with Safer Neighbourhood Panels who are responsible for setting priorities for Safer Neighbourhood teams, Scrutiny Reviews for the 53 who are not on Cabinet, to list a few of the other responsibilities.

The Conservatives told us:

We, as a group, have in our rules that Conservative councillors should not take more than 28 days holiday plus all statutory holidays a year. I will say that exceptions can be granted to increase that time for special reasons by permission of our group. Councillors are asked to log their holidays at our office so that our staff are aware of who is away and therefore arrange cover at meetings as necessary. All our councillors are asked to log in their diaries all their meetings and especially full council. Again for special reasons, e.g. family or work commitments, they can seek leave for non attendance from our Leader.

All our attendance at meetings is monitored by our office and the Leadership of our Group will respond by asking councillors if they have any problems if they are not attending.

Illness and recovery is not counted as holiday and if a member is away for this reason fellow ward councillors step in to help with meetings and ward matters. If as has happened that we get near the rule of non attendance, we would seek dispensation from council to extend the time away from council to allow full recovery before returning to council duties.

If we have complaints from constituents that they are not getting answers from our councillors then our Leadership will take this matter up with the councillor concerned.

The comments received to the original article would tend to suggest that there really is no tangible way of deciding statistically whether a councillor is putting in enough effort. As independent member Cllr James Bond says, “As I am one of the councillors who is not of the main two parties on the council, I am not on any formal committees.”

The real question comes down to one of simple perception. If you think your councillor is falling asleep in meetings, reading the paper, and you’ve not seen hide nor hair of him or her in months, then they’re probably failing you.

An final thought: there are many hard-working councillors across Harrow, and we believe that these vastly out-number those that are simply there for the ride. The challenge remains to identify who falls into which camp, remembering, of course, that things always change in the run up to a local election!

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  1. Praxis Reform

    I asked one of my relatives, who works for Sainsbury’s how they deal with absences, and here’s what she told me:

    The first time someone is away (within a 12 month period), upon returning to work, they need to fill out a form detailing the absence reasons and attend a meeting with their line Manager.

    The second time they are away, upon returning to work, they attend a meeting with their Manager, and are given a verbal warning.

    The third time someone is away, as before, but this time, they are given a written warning

    Then, the fourth time, as before, but this time, they are given a final written warning.

    At the fifth time, they are dismissed.

    So, these Council meetings are either important events that Councillors should be attending, or they are a waste of time, which could be better put to meetings with Resident and Tenant Associations, Advice Surgeries, catching up with missed sleep or reading the paper.

    If the meetings are important, why aren’t these Councillors being disciplined for non-attendance?

    If the meetings aren’t important, why aren’t Councillors tabling a motion to get rid of them, as I write?

    Personally, I think Harrow has far too many Councillors… Modern communication technology, outsourcing services to the Private sector, and the transfer of power away from London Councils to the GLA means that Councillors now have much less to do than they would have, say a decade ago.

    I suspect 21 hard-working councillors would be perfectly adequate for the borough, a saving of £336,000 p.a.

  2. Cllr Willy Stoodley

    I note the Tory statement says SHOULD not take more than 28 days a year not MUST not” Anyway it would be impossible to police
    @praxisreform – it can’t be compared to a “job” – it’s am elected post and there is no contract. Once elected a Cllr could resign the party whip and do nothing ezcept attend a Council meeting every 6 months, but to my knowledge that’s never happened – even Cllrs who resign the whip take the job very seriously and continue their role. Also it is very foolish mot to attend every Councill meeting as one never knows whether sickness or other reasons would prevent one from attending that 6 months meeting and result in being kicked out.

  3. stephen lewis

    I am not sure that you can compare working hard as a councillor to working in Sainsbury’s however I know from experience that all conservative councillors work hard and long for there residents and whenever I have had any issues they have been dealt with speed .Finally I feel that the work that is carried out behind the scenes and the expenses that they receive do not match up.

  4. Cllr Willy Stoodley

    Thank you Stephen.

  5. Praxis Reform

    It can’t be compared to a full time job, but it does seem rather like a part-time job, albeit with extremely flexible hours.

    Now, in order for Harrow residents to have any respect for the supposed democracy of Harrow Council, Councillors need to be seen to be following their own rules. Otherwise, why should the residents bother to follow rules about paying Council taxes or putting rubbish in bins provided, etc.

    Councillors have the power to change the rules about the number of meetings they attend per year, so if they can’t follow their own rules and they won’t change them, then all of them appear either as hypocrites or just extremely lazy.

  6. Cllr Willy Stoodley

    It’s not that simple as I explained to Paul last night. One e.g. is planning. Every month a site visit meeting, a briefing meeting and a planning meeting. Only the planning meeting counts towards attendance stats (and its at this point most readers are asleep already). So if I go to the other two it doesn’t count, but if I miss the other two you the public will never know! And if a reserve goes for me it doesn’t count on their stats but it does go AGAINST mine – so to the public it appears the meeting was unattended when in fact a member was indeed there. Other meetings also do not count – surgeries, meetings with officers, group meetings for e.g. The whole stats system is utterly floored. If a Cllr belongs only to one or two committees but makes them all they get 100% attendance record for very little work; whereas if a Cllr belongs to loads but sends reserves for half of them they only get 50% attendance for a much heavier workload…

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