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Thursday, 31 July 2014

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Beef, ice cream and peanuts

A WEEK is a long time in politics. Just seven days ago we reported calls for senior councillors to consider their positions over the community stadium row.

If we don’t get a stadium in time to play World Cup matches there, we still support that view, although those doubts might be dispelled today with the news that agreement has finally been reached to deliver the £5.5 million facility.

But now we report that Copeland Council’s leader is recommended a 30 per cent rise in her special allowance. And this comes alongside news of a table of 10 senior councillors and officers enjoying dinner at the Grosvenor Hotel – tournedos of beef in smoked garlic and red wine sauce with pancetta, celeriac, French beans and Anna potato, anyone? – while the authority picked up a prestigious gong in the Local Government Chronicle awards.

The award itself is to be applauded – after all, Copeland came top in the country for saving money and for good governance.

However, as the stadium row has repeatedly proved, timing has never been Copeland Borough Council’s strong point.

What of the leader Elaine Woodburn’s allowances? Is she worth the £25,534 (on top of the basic £3,063 allowance that all our borough councillors get)? Whisper this gently, but that’s peanuts compared to a position of comparable responsibility in the private sector. It might be deemed a part-time role but it’s the leaders Blackberry that will be ringing and pinging in the wee small hours if anything goes wrong.

But why 30 per cent now? True she hasn’t had a rise in four years, but might it not be fairer to say in advance of every council election: this is what the leader (or councillor for that matter) will be paid during his or her term of office? The same argument should be made for MPs’ pay at general elections.

And should she be paid more than the leader of Cumbria County Council, an authority with a much bigger area to cover and with a much bigger budget? That’s a trickier argument. No doubt politicians on the county council will solve it by recommending their leader get a rise of his own to leapfrog the borough council leaders. So it goes.

Is it wrong for an independent panel to suggest this rise? No. Should the leader be embarrassed about accepting it given the financial climate, with the council having to impose spending cuts and with people losing their jobs? Undoubtedly. But given that any political leader, of any party, needs the hide of a rhinoceros and all matching accessories to do the job in the first place, Coun Woodburn will get over it and the world will keep spinning on its axis.

But will she ever again complain about nuclear workers getting an “obscene” pay rise? Ah, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The Grosvenor’s vanilla ice cream with raspberries and brandy snaps, perhaps?

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