Some of you may have heard this brief anecdote before.
Some years ago a civil servant appeared in St Albans attempting to sell some ‘new’ ideas from
the Government of the day about local government. He stood up before various district and
county councillors in Hertfordshire and announced that ‘in future the Government wanted
councillors to represent the people to the town hall rather than the other way round.’
He said it without malice or irony and as a result was not lynched – turning up some years later
to dismantle the Audit Commission.
The ability of CLG or its ministers to understand or indeed wilfully misrepresent local
government is remarkable.
Most recently Eric Pickles, a man who does not do irony at all but has plenty of malice,
announced the abolition of pensions for councillors as part of the 2013-2014 local government
It is worth examining his words closely:
‘We have also announced today that further savings will be made by the abolition of
pensions for councillors.
‘Councillors should be champions of the people, not the salaried staff of the town hall
This can be simply unpicked: if you receive the benefits of an employee (a pension or an income
that allows you not to work outside the council) then you are not, in his opinion, a champion of
This presumably applies not only to those people doing a fulltime job like council leaders and
sometimes their opposite numbers but also to directly elected mayors, who are also expected
to do a full time job and whose usefulness Pickles has championed in his absurd Localism Act.
It also, of course, applies to MPs and ministers, including people like Pickles. There are times
that hypocrisy is so breathtaking that you have to pause a moment to admire it.
Consistency, of course, has never been Pickles’s strong suit but on this occasion there is another
recent statement which reveals his thinking. He recently told the CLG Select Committee that he
had inherited a department that was ‘the voice of local government within government’ and
that was now ‘the voice of the council tax payer, of the citizen inside local government services.’
Some of us are still old-fashioned enough to believe that the voice of the taxpayer is the voter
and that the mechanism for that voice to be heard is through the local government ballot box
and not through a remote and entirely partisan person in Whitehall advised by civil servants
who have for the most part never had a minute’s experience in a town or county hall.
That voice will be heard less and less as there are fewer and fewer councillors around who can
afford to devote years of their lives and sacrifice their (pensionable) careers to serving the very
people that Pickles absurdly claims he represents.
Chris White is both a District and County Councillor for St Albans and is a member of ALDC's Management Committee.
ALDC strongly encourages all members and readers to comment on the Local Government Pension proposals at the consultation's website, here.