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.

Barriers to Elected Office

The Committee has gathered evidence showing clearly that the current councillor cohort does not represent the demographic make-up of Scotland as a whole, particularly with regard to women, younger people and people with a disability. The ethnic make-up of councillors is broadly in line with the general population.

Our survey demonstrates that 56% of councillors are over 55 years of age, whereas within the population as a whole 39% are within this age group. Equally, 36% of councillors are women whereas within the Scottish population 52% are female. 17% of councillors in the survey considered themselves to have a disability, compared with 20% in Scotland.

The committee has identified a number of barriers impacting on these under-represented groups, while recognising the work being undertaken by the Scottish Government, COSLA and other organisations to address these.


The evidence gathered by the Committee demonstrates there are particular barriers for women when seeking or holding office as a councillor. These include remuneration, childcare, the reputation of politics as a whole and behaviour within councils. Personal safety was highlighted as an issue, particularly in the use and abuse of social media.

Working patterns for councillors do not sit well with family life and this impacts disproportionately on women with families or other caring responsibilities, not only discouraging them from standing but also leading to many of those elected standing down after a single term. The challenges in arranging suitable and affordable childcare were highlighted by many.

Younger People

There are clear barriers facing younger people when considering standing for election, including the difficulty of balancing their careers with their role and responsibilities as a councillor, family life and remuneration. Younger people are more likely to have financial commitments that cannot be matched easily with current levels of remuneration and the evidence from party councillor associations shows that these considerations prevent many potential candidates from standing for election.

Councillors with a Disability

COSLA’s Barriers to Elected Office Special Interest Group has been re-convened for the 2022-27 Local Government term, and has identified support for disabled councillors, amongst other themes, as priority workstreams.

17% of elected members who responded to the SLARC Councillors survey considered themselves to have a disability. This is lower than the national average, where 20% of people in Scotland consider themselves to have a disability. Some councillors with a disability who responded to the survey commented on how hybrid working arrangements makes the role more accessible to them, although this was not a unanimous view.

Councillors with a disability identified financial barriers the current rate of remuneration creates and the potential difficulties in taking on secondary employment.

Councillor associations commented that there is a perception that councils do not provide the level of support that is required to open the way for people with a disability to stand for election. Associations expressed the view[3] that the support offered to MSPs is far greater than that offered by councils. One association commented that people with disabilities faced additional challenges when considering standing for election.

The Committee considers that further work is needed to enhance the support that is provided for councillors with a disability, as well as supporting more people to stand for election. R21

“The role of a councillor is a real challenge for people with disabilities, including dyslexia where reading and digesting vast amounts of paperwork is required. This is also the case for those with impaired hearing. Levels of support are insufficient.” (Party Councillor Association C)


Many councillors who commented on the benefits of hybrid working highlighted the flexibility that this gives them in relation to childcare. The cost of childcare was a significant issue mentioned by many councillors who responded to our survey, as was the lack of reimbursement for childcare costs incurred as a result of evening or weekend council commitments.

Many councillors were only able to carry out their role because family or friends provided childcare and many would be unable to afford alternative childcare provision. One councillor said:

“If I hadn't had that support, I couldn't have afforded to pay for childcare to let me stand and then take on the role, and I would have had huge problems with the evening and weekend commitments.”

Councillor associations commented that the cost of childcare is a barrier to parents considering whether to stand since childcare costs cannot be claimed as expenses and finding suitable childcare is often difficult, especially at weekends and for evenings.

The current guidance provides an option for salary sacrifice in return for childcare vouchers and is now significantly out of date. The cost of childcare support is not generally provided to staff working in the public sector and for that reason the Committee cannot recommend the introduction of financial support for childcare expenses for councillors. However, it is recognised that the proposed uplifts to councillors’ remuneration, as well as regular reviews of the governance arrangements in councils, may assist in offsetting some of the financial challenges associated with childcare costs.

Reputation of Politics and Politicians

Our Councillors Survey highlighted examples of poor behaviour within councils including bullying and misogyny. It was suggested that this is a deterrent to potential candidates and has led to some councillors leaving office after a single term, with female members disproportionately affected. Whilst all political associations do provide extensive support and training to encourage women to stand, one commented:

“Poor behaviour exists within some councils. While remuneration is important, we are only going to attract people from under-represented groups if there is a stronger emphasis on tackling this.”

The Committee recognises that unacceptable behaviour is a significant barrier to elected office. We consider that councils should develop more intensive training for councillors, both during induction and throughout each council term. There is also a role for COSLA, the Improvement Service, the Standards Commission, and the Ethical Standards Commission, to work in partnership with Councils to ensure appropriate councillor conduct. R13

Personal Safety

Councillors are considered part of their communities and are more accessible than ever due to the growth in social media. While incidents involving councillors have been rare, there is clear evidence from our Councillors Survey 2023 and from our engagement sessions that personal safety is an issue for some elected members. Councillor associations all report that this issue is a deterrent to attracting potential candidates.

We heard examples where councillors have reported threats requiring police intervention, and where social media has left councillors feeling exposed to on-line threats of violence against themselves or their families.

Women councillors, especially in rural areas, attending evening meetings, often travelling after dark to and from community meetings, may be more at risk. Some elected members reported being unwilling to claim for taxis due to potential criticism this would attract.

The Committee recognises the seriousness of this issue and the work underway by the Barriers to Elected Office Special Interest Group and Police Scotland to develop specific training and resources to tackle these matters. R13

Complexity of Roles

The Committee considered whether the role of a councillor has changed and become more complex over the last decade. Both our Councillor and Governance Surveys suggest that for many councillors the role has become more demanding and complex.

There are several factors that have led to changes in the workload of councillors, including a decade of financial challenges, national policy and legislative changes[4], increased public expectations and the growth in social media and electronic communications. All these themes are illustrated throughout this report.

The past decade has seen significant change in the way services are delivered, partly resulting from financial constraints and service redesigns, but also because of national policy and legislative change. Structural changes, such as the creation of Integration Joint Boards[5] (IJBs), have introduced complex, inter-agency governance arrangements, where the strategic focus has been on delivering shared outcomes rather than a focus on council-only objectives. Often the contribution of elected members in such joint governance arrangements is neither well understood nor respected by their partners.

New duties for Participatory Budgeting and Community Asset Transfers contained within the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 have changed councils’ relationship with communities. This legislation has added new and potentially complex arrangements to the operation of community facilities and assets.

Councils have embraced approaches to community engagement, recognising that meeting increased demand for services requires a positive relationship with their constituents. Despite these new approaches, the role of councillors remains poorly understood and there is a lack of awareness of the scale and breadth of responsibility carried by them. There is a need to promote the work of councillors and councils to improve awareness and understanding of the important role they play in governing the delivery of local public services.

Councillors are often expected to respond to a wide range of issues, raised by constituents, not all of which are exclusively council responsibilities. These may relate to the cost-of-living crisis, availability of affordable housing or mental health issues. At the same time, our feedback from councillors suggests a greater degree of public intolerance when things go wrong or when councillors are unable to provide a successful resolution.

The introduction of multi-member wards in 2007 has increased the complexity of councillors’ work in their wards. Our surveys show that 50% of case work is raised by constituents with more than one ward councillor, leading to duplication of effort, not only for councillors in their wards, but potentially for council officers too. We have also seen that the way in which councillors interact with their ward colleagues can sometimes make their case work more onerous.

Our evidence has demonstrated how the growth in social media has impacted the work and lives of councillors. While it was reported that social media can be a useful tool for communicating with local residents, we heard many examples of councillors having a negative experience. Hostile comments on social media platforms can have a negative impact on both councillors and their families. Advances in technology have made communication easier and this has increased expectations from constituents who often seek instant responses to their enquiries.



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