Councillors' remuneration and expenses: recommendations

Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee (SLARC) was reconvened in April 2023 to undertake an independent review of councillor remuneration, having last reported in 2011.

Appendix 8: Responses from Political Associations

Feedback from discussions with Scottish political party councillor associations conducted during July and August 2023.

All discussions were undertaken on the understanding that they were to be unattributed, either to individuals or to a political party, since the discussions included politically sensitive matters.

Party Councillor Association A

  • Across Scotland 1/3rd of our councillors are women and 2/3rd are men
  • For younger councillors a major issue is remuneration – for older councillors often they have no mortgage, have pensions or other means, and can afford to be a councillor full time. This is not the case for younger councillors, particularly parents. Women often have an extra barrier of sexism. Councillor pay is well-below the national average pay and it also effectively gives an in-built advantage to councillors who can afford to only be a councillor compared to those who have to hold another job.
  • For smaller parties, an issue is the amount of time it takes to get elected – many will need to campaign for years before an election without guarantee of being elected – and with the current levels of remuneration, it makes it a challenge to find people willing to put in that commitment.
  • No payment if losing re-election makes it a major financial risk, particularly for younger councillors, who face a cliff-edge.
  • Poor behaviours is exhibited by some councillors. While remuneration is important, we are only going to attract people from under-represented groups if there is a stronger emphasis in tackling this.
  • Mental health wellbeing is also a challenge and there is perhaps a pastoral care element that needs to be addressed.

Party Councillor Association B

  • It is not easy to find candidates and even harder to find candidates with the right qualities. In general. the public do not understand the role of a councillor (and potential candidates are members of the public) which means those who are approached and elected can be disillusioned when faced with the reality, not having understood the detail of the role prior to election. It is a major problem; new councillors are keen and eager but find they cannot change the issues they campaigned for.
  • The time commitment is not apparent to candidates and is often not understood by those who recruit candidates either. Time commitment and ways of working vary between councils, and it is hard for recruiters to understand such differences.
  • It is a challenging role and challenging to find the right candidates.
  • Remuneration is a major challenge, depending on the journey councillors have come on, their needs and circumstances.
  • In addition, politics has got a bad name and politicians as a body do not have a good reputation. There are also security concerns, particularly after the murder of Jo Cox for example.
  • Much work is done to encourage women candidates to stand and to foster the development of women councillors. There are many reasons why women choose not to stand, including childcare and the associated costs.
  • Financially the remuneration does not stack up. A councillor’s salary without a partner's income or other resources, is not enough, particularly when having to meet the demands faced by single parents or carers.
  • Disabled people: MPs and MSPs receive considerable support but this is limited within councils. Some support is offered through party structures.
  • Remuneration is a barrier. Current levels are unrealistic, particularly for back-bench councillors. It is the case that people get out of the role what they put in but public expectations and the time commitment - including evening or week-end events etc - make remuneration unrealistic.
  • Increasing remuneration could lead to increasing professionalism.
  • It is not easy for councillors to find additional employment. It is not always easy or sustainable for employers to be flexible, particularly around daytime working hours. Consequently many councillors work for MPs and MSPs; it is also easier for those working in the public sector.
  • Caring responsibilities can be almost full time and these can conflict with the time commitment expected of councillors.
  • Whilst the possibility of losing office without compensation is a real issue for councillors, it is not something that weighs heavily on potential candidates when considering whether to stand.
  • Liability: councillors receive no protection against legal challenge. No indemnity or other protection is provided.
  • Lone working/security is an issue, particularly when attending evening meetings.

Party Councillor Association C

  • It is not easy to find candidates with the right life experience combined with a willingness to stand. Most people have no idea of the complexity of the role or understand that it is not glamorous.
  • Few people can undertake the role if it is to be their sole income and it is difficult to hold another job while serving as a councillor. Employers are wary and employing a member of a particular party can be an additional difficulty for them.
  • Not everyone wants to be involved in the political arena.
  • Timings are unpredictable, particularly in councils where a majority hold other employment as meetings and other commitments are geared around the needs of that majority. There is no regular structure to the working week.
  • Hours/timings are particularly challenging for women and almost impossible for women without family support.
  • Remuneration is a major issue and a real barrier to potential candidates.
  • The workload can be intense, much of it ‘behind the scenes’, reading masses of papers, often under pressure.
  • Councillors do not receive the support they need and are often (usually) ‘left to get on with it.’
  • Candidates who have been party activists before being elected find the role is very different to what they imagined; it is not operational and they soon find they cannot ‘change the world’ but have to take decisions that go against their hopes and expectations.
  • A real challenge for people with disabilities, including dyslexia where reading and digesting vast amounts of paper work is required. Also, for those with impaired hearing. Levels of support are insufficient.
  • Losing office is a real risk, especially for those who have given up other employment. There is an assumption, reflected in the lack of any support or compensation, that being a councillor is ‘not a real job’ and councillors are not dependant on the remuneration they receive. This is a hangover from the days when being a councillor was not remunerated and was usually part-time.
  • Surveys by the association suggest there is a resistance to change within councils, particularly around the timing of meetings.

Other points:

  • The salary should be based on the skills required to perform the role, not on the hours worked. That is the common approach in almost all other employment.
  • For many the role is not part-time and this should be reflected in the assessment. However, for some, particularly those with other employment, it is of necessity part-time. Therefore, it would be appropriate for newly elected councillors to declare on election (or during their term) whether they wish to work full or part time and be remunerated accordingly.



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