Ramsay Jones: The most talented people, which local democracy sorely needs, are staying away over low wages

Ramsay Jones

Imagine if you were on the board of directors of an enterprise with an annual spend of over a billion pounds; if you had 8,000 employees, had to make vital decisions on a daily basis about the livelihoods of nearly a quarter of a million people, and responsible for nurturing the economy of some of the world’s biggest companies.

How much should you earn?

Imagine if the well-being of young children, the care of the elderly and vulnerable people and the education of the next generation depended on the decisions you took.

How much would you be worth?

Imagine if you had a constant stream of people needing your help and advice with their problems and had to spend evenings and weekends meeting them, listening to them and assisting them. What back up would you need?

Let’s put it another way.

Would you take on this role for less than £17,000 a year and a part share of one assistant to help with the admin? Would you think it worth your time to earn less than the living wage for the hours you put in?

Would you do it even if you were mistrusted, misunderstood and collectively held in low public esteem?

Step forward our local councillors. Or at least most of them.

Men and women who give far more than they receive. Who embody service. Who are the beating heart of democracy. Who, in the case of cities such as Aberdeen, are at the helm of what are effectively the country’s biggest social enterprises.

Who are paid a quarter of what we pay out politicians at Holyrood. Who are expected to be at our beck and call 24/7. Who have to wrestle with the harsh realities of balancing the books, competing priorities and endless demands on finite resources. Who are always a few years away from facing the sack at elections.

People who can never satisfy all the people all the time but whom we expect to get it right every time.

Now I accept that our local councillors have behind them professionals of high calibre who take care of the day-to-day delivery of our local services. I accept that they too have justifiable concerns over their pay and perks.

I know that those few councillors who are in the administration get more allowances.

But, overall, the pay we give our local politicians is a pittance. Whether in the governing group or in opposition they are all responsible for the running of the council by the votes they cast. All have local constituents relying on them to have their voices heard and problems resolved. And we expect them to do a full-time job on part-time wages.

To make big decisions for small recompense. To do it out of some sense of civic duty. And, to their credit, they do.

But are we limiting our choice of people who could serve? I believe it is time to drag our local democracy up to date. To reject the quaint, archaic notion that being the local councillor was for part-time local worthies who could afford to do it.

Those who had made their pile and were semi-retired or who were affluent by other means. It is time to have local politicians at the helm of our great cities and shires drawn from the widest possible pool. Where low pay is not a barrier to the best and most able. Where local service is a career in its own right. Not an add-on or stepping stone.

Yes, I know it is not fashionable to suggest we pay our politicians more. Yes, there will always be many deserving needs for our cash. But it is time to move beyond well intentioned part timers and recognise that running a billion pound business needs the best. We can’t just hope that those who can afford to run for elected office are always good enough. We need to fish from a wider pool.

So ask yourself this: would you do the job for less than the living wage? Or would we all be better served by removing barriers to getting the brightest and best to be our local champions? I say we would.

Great gig in the pipeline

My regular reader will know that I’m getting married in May.

May 19th to be exact. On the beautiful island of Jura.

Jen and I set the date months ago. We thought we had it to ourselves. The day that is, not the island.

But there’s another couple who have decided to tie the knot at the same time. You may have heard of them. Some bloke called Harry and his intended, Meghan.

In truth, I don’t mind. I understand them wanting to follow our lead and chose a glorious Saturday in May.

We’ve offered Kensington Palace the chance to liaise over arrangements to avoid embarrassment for the Royals if their guests turn them down to come to Jura…

They have chosen a lunchtime kick off to leave our three o’clock slot unfettered.

They’ve got the hustle and bustle of London. We’ve got the peace and tranquility and sheer beauty of the Inner Hebrides. And the palm trees of the Jura Hotel.

We’ve decided that they can have the paparazzi of the world. We’ve got the Paps of Jura.

But.

We need a piper. It seems that May 19th is a big day in the piping calendar. It’s the British Championships.

So if you haven’t been booked to play at the other wedding and aren’t competing with your band, then there’s a great gig going on Jura.

I can’t offer a king’s ransom. But I can guarantee a grand day out in a beautiful setting and the chance to meet my regular reader.

You can catch me on Twitter if you’re interested @ramsay59

The tag is #nottheroyalwedding

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