A couple of weeks ago I took part in a BBC Local Radio phone in (not Radio Merseyside) about how much councillors get paid. I gave a description of what I do for the £10,200 I get as a councillor and what I do for free on top of it. Then I discussed this with a number of members of the public who rang in. Some of them were outraged saying that I should do the work for nothing. They could not however answer the killer question, “So what do you do for your community?”
The sad fact is that most of the people who sound off about our work are people who have never done something for nothing in their lives. This is as true of the well paid journalists who have been attacking local government over the past couple of weeks as it is for the arm chair critics who took all the effort to whinge on a local radio channel.
I have thought about this over the past 24 hours. They are probably the first lot of 24 hours for a long, long time when I have done nothing political at all. I got back from a trip to Stoke (more of this later) and went straight into reading books and bathing the love of my life – no not Erica the other love of my life – my granddaughter. This morning we fed the ducks, went to the Park, played on the swings, read stories together and had brunch before I went off to take my 90 year old mother out to lunch. What’s so special about that many people would ask? Well nothing for most people but for most councillors 24 hours to do what we want to is an incredible luxury.
Across the UK there are about 25,000 men and women on principal councils. For most of us a 70 hour week is quite common as we battle to earn a living and serve our constituents; our council; and our Party. Some might think we are generously paid but the fact that about 30% cease to be councillors after their first term of office suggests otherwise. A door to untold riches it is not – a door to anxiety, depression and ‘nerves’ – it most certainly is.
In Stoke I attended a conference of Clerks of Town and Parish Councils. That reminded me that most of them earned very little but that on top of us there are 100,000, town, parish and community councillors in the UK. They too spend a tremendous amount of time on their work and without their effort many of the things that we take for granted – especially in rural life – would cease to function.
In 5 months time I will be standing down as Leader of the Lib Dems at the LGA and will have more time on my hands. My thoughts are increasingly turning to what I want to do. As you might guess I do want to spend more time at home with my family (although I am not sure that they actually want me to spend more time with them!). But I also want to do things which will help my fellow councillors by showing to the public, agencies, quangos and regrettably our own Ministry just how magnificent a band on men and women they mostly are.
Should I be re-elected on May 6th it will be my last term of office as I will have notched up 32 years at the end of this period. Enough for me – more than enough for Liverpool! But I will never once regret the day I became a councillor. I will look back with pride on what I have achieved for the communities that I have represented and the wider Liverpool and local government families of which I have been part. I have made mistakes- we all do – but I am pleased to defend my record.
The well paid SPADS, journalists and radio based whingers who condemn us will never dampen my pride in being part of this thin line of front line politicians the extent of whose work is almost unknown to most people.
I salute you all and am proud to work alongside you whichever Party you may belong to.