Monday, March 30, 2009

Feeling Cross!

One or two people in Eaglescliffe have, quite understandably, raised questions over recent months about the expenses and allowances paid to councillors. The questions are usually deceptively simple and the answers are anything but simple. Councillors come in all shapes and sizes from all sorts of backgrounds and with a wide range of personal wealth or lack of it. The system that's in place tries to cover for all the possible eventualities, giving an allowance which recognises that people give up a lot of hours to do the job and that if we're going to have councillors who represent the wide range of people in the Borough not all of them will be able to afford to do the job without some financial recompense. In order to be open and fair about the allowances the information is published annually by the council for all to see - what each councillor has had as an allowance and what expenses have been claimed for things not covered by the allowance. These range from travel to council meetings to attending conferences and trainings some distance away.
Contrast that with Westminster, where it seems that expenses were until very recently considered on a par with the exact location of our nuclear deterrent - something never to be revealed to mere mortals. Now that expenses are routinely being publicised by zealous campigners we find that an allowance originally designed to ensure that MPs for constituencies away from London could do their job properly by having a pied a terre in the capital is being abused to provide a second income for some Parliamentarians. But it's all within the rules they say! Well my view is that the rules need to be changed. Perhaps the government ought to build a hostel and house them all next to the Palace of Westminster. Being serious for a moment, I'm amazed that the broadband connection for the Home Secretary's family home should be claimed on expenses when the same government moves more and more information onto the internet and expects ordinary citizens to pay for their own broadband in order to access it! In this day and age it's quite common to run 2 or more computers from the same router at no extra charge. Are they trying to say that the family living in the house wouldn't have broadband if she weren't the Home Secretary?
This afternoon I chaired the monthly meeting of the Western Area Partnership Board. Under the heading "Area Partnership improvement plan" we discovered that the Central Area Partnership has been chosen to pilot a Youth Area Partnership. Very nice for Central Area young people, but the Western Area has been asking for this for years. We were the first of the area partnerships to appoint young people to the board with full voting rights. We were then copied by the other area boards. We've held meetings jointly with groups of young people, we've changed our meeting time and day to enable a youth club to host the meeting. And then we find that the thing we've been asking for is to be done elsewhere, but don't worry we were told "you'll be kept informed of what we learn from the pilot and if it's a success we'll hope to roll it out to other areas". Now excuse us, but the Western Area is a very different partnership to the Central Area, so who says that what works for one will work for the other? Members of the Board made it very plain tonight that we weren't happy at being treated like this and we want to give young people in our area a voice. Whether anything will change as a result we wait to see.

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