Councillors in North Somerset are thinking the unthinkable. Maybe, at 61 members, there’s just too many of them. The local authority needs to make a dent in its corporate services budget of £47.3 million and, in a move that sounds like turkeys voting for Christmas, councillor Mark Canniford suggested starting with the number of representatives.
“I think there would certainly be a lot of support for this among the different parties,” said another councillor. “If you look at cities like Bristol or Birmingham, they operate with relatively few councillors considering the amount of people they represent, so there probably are too many councillors in North Somerset. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest cutting it by half, I would certainly think reducing the number by around 10 should be something we should be looking at.”
I don’t know, half seems a good starting point. The population of the unitary authority of Bristol is 433,100 and is represented by 70 councillors. In North Somerset, it is 209,100, so, in effect, 35 councillors would represent the same number of people there as in Bristol. If the cuts in councillors are agreed, they will be implemented at the next district elections in 2015.
In the meantime, the Western Daily Press reveals the substantial cost of council redundancies in the South-West. Over the past year, more than 1500 staff have been cut and paid over £25 million in compensation. Somerset shed the most staff, with 446 employees being paid compensation of £5.6 million. Although the average sum paid out was just over £15,000, sums of over £100,000 of taxpayers’ money were given to senior managers. Former South Somerset District Council chief executive Phil Dolan left in March 2010 with a £167,000 redundancy pay out, plus an extra £239,000 donated to his pension pot.
Payments just below £100,000 included £98,000 to Dorset’s head of regulatory services in adult and community services, between £93,000 and £97,000 for a Wiltshire library services manager, while £78,000 in Somerset went to a ‘virtual headmaster—education & individual services’, whatever that is!
Such generous sums for senior managers are matched by recent redundancy payments to regional quangos. Tony Cooper, head of the Rural Payments Agency, received a golden goodbye of at least £310,000 when he retired in July 2010, while two senior managers at the South West Regional Development Agency were given exit packages ranging from £100,000 to £149,000. The total redundancy cost of scrapping this quango is estimated at £1.7 million.