Walsall councillors do a wonderful job, of that there can be no question. As they give their time and expertise for the general good of the borough, their philanthropy knows no bounds when it comes to telling us what is good for us. The elected members who serve as cabinet portfolio holders are particularly charitable and are clearly in it only for love. Having announced further cuts of £7.7million resulting in a record breaking £22million worth of reductions to vital services, their reward will obviously be in heaven. Or will it…?
The local rag is kicking up a fuss about “allowances” awarded to councillors and has published the figures. It seems that our leader, Mike Bird trousered £29,390 and 37 pence last year. This is obviously small beer when compared to the massive budget deficit and such benign and sagacious leadership is worth every penny. Indeed, Iron Mike has come out fighting and said that he is worth more than that figure. It is worth considering the words he is alleged to have used in defending his “allowance”.
“I am worth twice that. If anyone in private industry was working the hours I do overseeing a budget of £750million they would be earning in the region of £100,000 per year.”
Well, anyone working in private industry who was responsible for colossal waste, woeful accountancy, overspends, mismanagement and huge payouts to wrongly dismissed employees would, in the real world, be sacked. Instead of asking for a pay rise, Councillor Bird may be better advised to consult with the Job Centre, a venue popular with many of his former employees.
Bird is not alone on the gravy train. Former mayor John O`Hare took home £31,919 for his mainly ceremonial role. That’s a lot of booze and fags but he did a lot for charity. Current mayor Gary Clarke will need to open a lot of garden fêtes if he hopes to match the generous allowance awarded when he was chairman of Centro. Husband and wife team Adrian and Rachel Andrew, the Richard and Judy of the council chamber, received £18,680-40 each. That is not enough to take care of the babysitter during the long hours they spend in meetings to decide the closure of schools because they have both only managed to attend 75% of cabinet meetings. Between them, the three councillors for Pheasey Park Farm, Bird, Adrian Andrew and Christopher Towe were awarded a grand total of nearly £67,000 and the total for all councillor allowances came to almost £850,000.
Cabinet members, opposition group leaders and the chairs of various committees are all rewarded with allowances over and above the basic £10,377 paid to all councillors because of the additional responsibility their position brings and Walsall can boast of one the highest paid Chief Executives in the country. It seems odd that our brightest and best did not spot the black hole of deficit approaching and curious too that the only solution to insolvency is to close things and set “targets” for income from parking tickets. They display their nobility and we pay through the nose.
As the coalition government makes even deeper cuts, the silence coming from cabinet is deafening, particularly over the BSF shambles. Still, the 18 grand will do nicely for taking the family on holiday as the rest of us form a queue at the soup kitchen. Our council clearly understands the concept of value for money, especially when motivated by self-interest and there are some that would happily pay Mike Bird £100,000, but only if he promised to go away.