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.

SLARC’s Approach – Engaged and Inclusive

In order to discharge its remit effectively, SLARC built a comprehensive evidence base on which we have made our recommendations. Our approach has been to gather evidence through research, while working closely with local authorities and other key organisations to ensure that SLARC’s work remains robust and credible, informed by the direct experiences of Scotland’s councillors.

Sources of Evidence

In delivering its remit, the Committee engaged directly with COSLA – Leadership Sounding Board and Barriers to Elected Office Special Interest Group, The Improvement Service, Scottish Councils including Chief Executives, Monitoring Officers, and councillors, and face-to-face Engagement Sessions with Aberdeen City Council, Angus Council, Clackmannanshire Council, Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar,

Dumfries and Galloway Council, Glasgow City Council, Highland Council, Midlothian Council, Renfrewshire Council, West Dunbartonshire Council, West Lothian Council, SOLACE, SOLAR, SPDS, Directors of Finance, Ethical Standards Commission

Standards Commission, Accounts Commission, Scottish Conservative Councillor Association, Association of Nationalist Councillors, Association of Scottish Liberal Democrat Councillors, MPs/former MSPs/Former MEP, Local Government Information Unit (Scotland), Universities, Scottish Government Legal Department.

Councillors’ Survey

Working in partnership with the Improvement Service and COSLA, we developed an on-line survey designed to provide a national picture of life as a modern-day councillor in Scotland, and a sense of how this has evolved in recent years. The survey was launched on 1st June 2023, and ran for two weeks until 15th June 2023.

The survey considered the impact on councillors of the growth in use of social media, the increasing complexity of formal partnerships and new ways of working post-pandemic. In addition, it asked all 1,226 councillors to comment on their experiences of working in their own wards, and the challenges and opportunities this brings in urban, rural, or very rural settings.

The survey closed with 785 responses representing 64% of Scotland’s councillors. We are grateful to all councillors who took the time to complete the survey, providing a rich data set of both quantitative and qualitative information. Our thanks too for the work of SOLACE and the Local Government Information Unit Scotland for their help in publicising the survey amongst councillors and ensuring such a positive response was achieved.

Figure 1 Key Points from Councillors' Survey

What Scotland’s Councillors told us…

More than half of councillors report that they spend at least 26 hours per week on formal council duties, while almost half (43.56%) spend more than 16 hours on informal duties. 42% say their council role is full-time, while more than half (51.29%) are employed elsewhere in a full-time or part-time job. Nearly 60% of councillors are frequently approached by constituents for help whilst not engaged in council duties. 15% are retired and in receipt of pensions.

Social media creates more casework for two thirds of councillors and almost as many have experienced on-line personal criticism. Almost three quarters of councillors (72.79%) say their involvement in partnerships and committees has become more demanding since they first became involved.

56% of councillors are aged 55 or over, compared with 39% of the population, while far fewer councillors are aged from 18-34 than the overall population. Fewer councillors said they had a disability than the overall population, while almost four times as many identified as LGBT+. Councillors are far more likely to be male than female; only 36% are female while making up 52% of the overall population. The ethnic makeup of councillors is broadly reflective of the general population.

In addition to our pre-set survey questions, we asked councillors to add any other comments at the end of the survey. In total, councillors added 60 pages of free text comments. The key themes contained within councillors’ comments are set out in Appendix 1. These were of great assistance to the Committee in considering the four key questions in our remit.

Overall, the survey has provided us with a wealth of data describing the life of a modern-day councillor in Scotland. On conclusion of the survey process, all council Chief Executives were issued with a full set of survey results for their own councils, alongside the national results. It was considered by the Committee that councils may find the data useful in developing future improvement actions. In addition, we issued an info-graphic bulletin setting out the high-level results from the survey across the country. This is attached in Appendix 2.

It is worth noting that there is no central collated data held, and updated, on the changing composition of elected representatives to the 32 local authorities and a survey was the only way the Committee could build a picture of the diversity of councillors. The Committee recommends the establishment of a dynamic national dataset showing the demographic composition of the country’s councillors, and how this is changing. Overtime, such data will identify key population groups who continue to be under-represented within councils, to enable action to be taken to remove barriers and enable wider participation. This should be pursued with the Electoral Commission. (R20)

The Committee would also highlight the Candidate Diversity Survey, developed by the Scottish Government Elections Team for the 2022 local elections. This survey asked candidates to complete an equality monitoring form at the point of nomination. The purpose of this survey was to provide a vital source of evidence on the diversity of both candidates and those elected as councillors.



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