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.

Review of Governance

The Committee sought to understand the role and remit of councillors, and the overall context in which they operate. Working in partnership with the Improvement Service and SOLAR, we gathered information about governance arrangements across Scotland’s councils, who provided details of their internal governance structures, external partnership arrangements, and the role and remit of councillors.

A review of the role of the modern-day councillor was carried out and the Committee was able to map key events over the last 10 years that have had a significant impact on the workload and responsibilities of Scotland’s councillors. Appendix 4 sets out some of the changes over this time. In total 28 of the 32 councils responded to the survey (87.5%). We have noted below, the key themes emerging from the survey.

Council Governance Structures

Few councils report having regularly and routinely reviewed their governance structures during the past 10 years. Whilst there have been minor changes implemented in response to local circumstances or external drivers, it is notable that most councils do not have regular reviews of their governance arrangements. 19 councils who responded (68%) operate a committee structure while 9 (32%) have an Executive/Cabinet model.

The pattern of council meeting cycles varies widely, resulting in significant variations in frequency of committee meetings. There is wide variation in the extent to which members are involved in the work of council committees. Our survey data show that while there is a greater involvement for members in smaller councils, there is no correlation between councillor involvement and rurality.

Remote and/or hybrid meetings have become the norm across Scottish local authorities, although there are local variations in practice.

External Arrangements

In general, councils report that there can be a large number of bodies that elected members sit on, meeting regularly throughout the year. A number of these come with decision making responsibility, although some ask for strategic or consultative input.

Remuneration for participation in these bodies is very rare, and generally only received for participation in formal partnerships or statutory bodies, often only for specific roles. A small number of councils highlighted an increase in the number of statutory bodies over the last decade.

More than a quarter of councils said that the numbers of external bodies that have councillors as members had remained unchanged over the past decade.

Almost a quarter said that there were higher demands and expectations of councillors in relation to attending outside bodies and/or their role within these had become more time consuming and complex, while almost one fifth were unable to say whether this activity had increased or become more complex over the last 10 years. More than a third of councils have reduced the numbers of outside bodies that councillors sit on.

Role and Remit of Councillors

Feedback from councils provided evidence about the changing nature and increased complexity associated with the role of a councillor over the past decade. Expectations around partnership working have increased, as has the role of councillors in scrutiny and challenge. It was also reported that there was an increase in decision making responsibility which required a degree of strategic input. 20 councils shared councillor role profiles information in their returns. The content of the role profiles varied considerably.

Senior Councillors

Whilst all councils that responded have a Leader and Civic Head, there is no uniformity or pattern in relation to other senior appointments either in relation to size or geography of the council.

All councils that responded pay some form of allowance to their Leaders, Civic Heads and Committee Chairpersons/Spokespersons. One in four councils utilise 100% of the budget allocation for these payments, 35% use between 91-99% of the funding and 29% use between 81-90%. The remainder use between 60-80%. 23 of the 28 councils make payments to councillors who are not part of the Administration.


Communication & Media

Councillors typically have access to their council's communication teams for council related matters only. These teams provide advice, guidance, and support related to media engagement and use of social media. Many councils offer basic media training to their elected members, particularly as part of members’ induction.

ICT Support

Councils mainly provide elected members with a range of ICT support and equipment such as laptops and mobile phones to support their work.

Case Management

Case management systems for elected members' caseloads differ across local authorities, reflecting varying approaches to handling constituent issues and inquiries. This means no overall trends can be determined regarding the volume of casework elected members undertake.

Training and Development

Councils across Scotland provide varying degrees of induction training and development support to their elected members. The scope and content of these programmes differ, but they generally cover several common themes. All councils offer induction to elected members following elections and many councils continue to provide ongoing development opportunities for elected members throughout their term of office. R17

Monitoring Attendance

79% of the councils that responded indicated they monitor councillors’ attendance at Council and Committees, and some publish this information on their websites. All councils indicated that they monitored attendance to ensure compliance with the terms of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and would report if any councillors were reaching the six-month point of non-attendance where there is a risk of disqualification. The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government should consider whether existing legislation needs to be reviewed to strengthen requirements on councillors to perform their duties. R15

More than half of councils also recorded and reported councillors’ attendance at training sessions and monitored their Continuous Professional Development (CPD) logs. Whilst all councils reported on councillors’ expenses, a small number of councils monitored these.

Given the Committee’s recommended link of councillor pay to 80% of median public sector pay, councils should consider monitoring and reporting upon councillor activity levels and attendance at formal council meetings. R15

Severance Payments

None of the councils who responded provided any formal supports when councillors demitted office. No financial compensation was made by any councils, and few had any form of structured support in the form of career counselling or pension advice, but some did conduct exit surveys and provided some informal support. We heard that the lack of any payment was a deterrent to standing for office given the prospect of losing salary without any form of compensation. R14

Members Services and Administrative/Clerical Support

Our evidence gathering exercises confirmed that councils generally offer a range of administrative and clerical support to councillors to aid them in undertaking their responsibilities. This support commonly includes personal assistants (PAs) for key figures such as the Council Leader, Conveners, and Provost. Additionally, there are Members Services or Democratic Services teams that provide administrative assistance to all elected members, including diary management, expenses handling, and general clerical support.

The level of support can vary in terms of full-time equivalent (FTE) staff, with some councils having more extensive support teams than others. Our feedback from councillors and councils indicated that overall, administrative and clerical support is there to help elected members with council activities, including constituency work and civic events.

Given the different types of support offered to elected members, and the differing levels of detail councils provided in their survey responses, it is not possible to calculate the exact level of admin/clerical support for elected members across all councils. R22



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