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High maintenance councillors pocket £386k

Expenses, expenses – dontcha just love them? No suggestion here of unseemly duck houses or whatnot, I believe this is all above-board, as-per-normal stuff. It all mounts up pretty quickly, far exceeding the projected savings from museum closures, for example. But it’s the salaries that bug me. And Mr Parris has a point.

The price of democracy at Canterbury City Council is a third of a million pounds. Last year the 50 councillors cost us all £386,511 in allowances. Top of the pile was Tory council leader John Gilbey (Blean Forest) with £31,833, which included special responsibility money of £21,138, another £2,129 for his car and £431 in mobile phone charges.

Herne and Broomfield’s Peter Vickery-Jones was the second-highest paid councillor with £13,576, including £5,883 for special responsibility £1,596 for his car and £437 for his mobile phone. Wincheap’s Alex Perkins, leader of the Liberal Democrats, claimed £13,056, including £269 for his mobile phone and £675 for travel. Whitstable’s Julia Seath, the Labour group leader, claimed £6,234.

The best value councillor was Tankerton’s Martin Fisher; with just his basic allowance of £4,710. He is currently on bail facing child sex offence charges. Next cheapest was Herne Bay’s Vince McMahan, with £4,802.92, including a £92.92 bill for his car. Seven councillors only claimed £4,890 (their basic allowance, plus £180 PC allowance): Mike Berridge; Robert Bright; Paul Carnell; Roger Matthews (recently cleared on corruption charges); Mike Steed; Heather Taylor and Martin Vye.

News of the allowances infuriated war veteran Albert Parris, 73, of Herne. The former Royal Marines Commando fumed:

“Our councillor Peter Vickery-Jones received £13,576, which is more than some of our soldiers get on the front line. It is outrageous. How can he justify that sort of money when we have injured soldiers denied proper artificial limbs? He even gets an allowance from the parish council.”

Mr Parris was so incensed he has written to both Whitstable and Canterbury MP Julian Brazier, and the Prime Minister David Cameron. He said:

“It makes my blood boil when I have to beg, steal and borrow £370 to hire a coach to take our guys to Gable Cross police station to salute dead Marines coming back from the frontline. Councillors are making a laughing stock out of us with our money especially when everyone is having to make cuts.”

Mr Vickery-Jones was not available for comment, but he is a member of the council’s executive with responsibility for property and engineering, planning and regeneration, housing, community safety environmental services, community development and outdoor leisure, including beach huts. He also serves on the Herne Bay area members panel, and the housing appeals and benefits committee. He is a magistrate and member of the Canterbury and Herne Bay Volunteers Centre and Canterbury Mediation Service. The former Merchant Navy marine engineer lives in Herne Bay with his wife and their daughter; and is a governor of Herne Junior School. He has since re-trained as a plumber.

HB Times 17th June 2010

It’s a vexing question, whether the Elected should be paid, and if so – what for, and how much? Nobody’s forcing them to be there, after all – they volunteered for a spell of selfless sacrifice for the common good. The Car, Travel, Mobile and PC categories are what I would regard as expenses. The fixed Basic allowance, plus the grand total of the various “Special Responsibilities” tariffs the councillor has chosen to take on, look to me like a salary by-any-other-name.

The Council probably has a small swarm of officers devoted to drawing up contracts. I would like to see them produce a contract that describes what the councillors must do for the Electorate before they can claim their salaries, let alone their expenses. One of our councillors moved to Surrey not so recently, his attendance dropped from 90-ish% to 20%, but his salary is an undiminished 100% – bonkers.

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