After a short Bank-Holiday-induced delay, here’s an update on what happened at the meeting at which the Lib Dems were challenging the decision by the Conservatives to pay 6 councillors £6K a year each extra for being appointed non-executive directors of the 3 limited companies that are wholly owned by Wokingham Borough Council.
The committee considering this consists of 9 Tories, 2 Lib Dems and 1 Independent. The outcome overall was about as good as we Lib Dems had hoped, given that we had no expectation of any of the Tories voting against a decision by their own group, especially as their leader, David Lee, was sitting at the back of the room. But one brave Conservative – Ian Pittock – voted with the Lib Dems and Independent to ask the Conservative Executive to reconsider the decision – although the rest of the Tories thought it was fine.
The Lib Dems had wanted to have a proper process for appointing these directors and a proper process for reviewing how much they are paid, and the committee agreed to recommend to the Executive that in future both of those things should happen.
But what came to light in the meeting?
It emerged that: 1)the directorships were seen as political appointments, chosen by the Leader of the Conservative group – also the Leader of the Council -, David Lee, from amongst the ranks of Conservative councillors, with no advertisement, no formal interviews, no job description other than a bit from the Companies Act to say what non-executive directors in general did, and nothing in place to review their performance in the role.
2) the idea to pay them for the role appeared to have originated with the Leader of the Council. It certainly did not come from the companies, or the officers. And it overturned the previous position, made public in August last year, that there would be no pay.
3) the only information presented for determining the rate of pay was by comparison with what non-executive directors were paid in the NHS – for more time, in bigger organisations, for nationally advertised posts with proper job descriptions and assessments. All the council-owned companies the committee found did NOT pay directors. It emerged that in the research done by officers before they also found no examples where directors were paid – but that information did not appear in the report which was used to set the rate of pay. Funny that. So Wokingham appears to be the only place where councillors are paid to be directors.
3) £36K is, according to the Conservatives, apparently a trivial amount in the scheme of things when these 3 companies are going to be making millions in the future. Shame that they didn’t have the same view when deciding to close the public toilets… But maybe when these 3 companies are making millions it will all look different. At the moment, of course, they aren’t. And 3 times David Lee tried to stop me talking about their current financial position – even though it is information that is publicly available here: http://www.wokingham.gov.uk/council/minutes-agendas/minutes/?entryid164=211115&q=4231135%7eTrading+and+Enterprises+Sub+Committee%7e4231142%7e2012%7e
4) The Conservatives felt that councillors are underappreciated and undervalued, pointing out how much people are paid in the private sector. Some of us, of course, although we need an income to live on, are not in it for how much money we can get out of it. Ever heard of public service?
I wonder why it might be that people don’t value councillors highly? Any ideas anyone?
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