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Are Idlers Being Rewarded?

Julie Wassmer
Julie Wassmer

An interesting programme on Radio 4 the other day weighed up the pros and cons of idleness.

A colonel’s wife spoke of enjoying brandy and ginger ale at bath-times and occasionally chatting to her kids through an intercom when she was particularly bored. A former miner spoke movingly about beginning work as a school boy in 1925 and finding his life’s happiest moments came during the months of “idleness” during the General Strike.

I’ve worked all my life, though spent some of my youth being idle – especially while doing various jobs. Only in my 30s, when I became a writer (something I had always worked hard at as a hobby) did I really begin “working hard”. Can something you enjoy doing be considered “work”? And should “idleness” ever be rewarded?

It’s said that Whitstable people “work hard” at local campaigns but I think we consider this only to be time and energy expended in battles that need to be won – which is why the word “campaign” is apt. Campaigns are fought only when the other party leaves you no other option and in this I’m always grateful for the help of good local politicians. However, since ward councillors, and MPs for that matter, can be either hard workers or idlers on local issues, this is something you might only discover when you need their help.

This week I noticed that Herne Bay councillor David Hirst had the Tory whip withdrawn by council leader John Gilbey, a move which may prevent Hirst from challenging Gilbey in forthcoming leadership elections. I went online to find out more and learned that Hirst is a “double hatter” – he sits on both the city and county councils. I also learned he is amply rewarded for this, having collected no less than £27,595 in one year from his role on both councils and the Kent Fire Authority.

He wasn’t alone in the high allowance stakes: fellow councillor Jean Law topped him by claiming £30,194 from both Kent and Canterbury councils. I always thought such payments were made to compensate for incidental expenses. Are councillors now helicoptering into meetings? According to TaxPayers’ Alliance spokesman John O’Connell, those serving on more than one council or authority “can pick up sizeable allowances that are more akin to high earnings”.

It appears our county council paid out £954,000 in allowances in one financial year with councillors amassing an additional £388,000 of taxpayers’ money by belonging to as many as three other organisations. A sizeable boost to many pensions perhaps?

I know some local councillors who work extremely hard – indeed one, who has helped me with three campaigns, is the father of a young family who takes the train to work before 7am, returns to attend many evening meetings before arriving home at 10pm and calling me as late as midnight with regard to campaign issues. He also makes himself available at weekends. That’s an impressive work ethic by anyone’s standards.

Interestingly, at a council budget meeting last week, a move was proposed by the same man, James Flanagan, for councillors to take a 10 per cent cut in allowances. Labour voted for this. The Conservatives voted against. Is it possible to remain idle and yet remain amply rewarded? I think we all know the answer to that.

Canterbury Times, 28th Feb 2013

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