One of my photos

Not-so-green councillors

December 27th, 2006 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 2 Comments · Politics

I am quite impressed with the Crawley News this week. At that time of the year, between Christmas and New Year, when everyone has been off work, you might expect the local papers to be full of nothing more than fluff but they have attempted a bit of proper journalism.

Actually two bits, but I think they might both be generated from the same set of councillors’ expenses. So A for effort, but my own opinion is that both stories have the wrong angle.

The first story is about councillors not being very green, and this has been deduced by looking at their expense claims for mileage. It is true that councillors clock up a fair few miles by car and often do not use public transport. Perhaps a bit more walking, cycling and bus use would be possible, but the way I remember it that is not always, or even often, practical.

It is amusing to see the lack of claims for bus travel used to ‘prove’ a lack of bus travel and for Councillor Murdoch to be singled out. It would be a much bigger scandal if he did claim for bus travel since he is an OAP and therefore has free bus travel in town.

For me, the question is really why on earth anyone is bothering to claim for mileage. In four years as a councillor I don’t think I ever claimed a penny for mileage. I always considered that travelling the few miles to or from the town hall was a trivial expense and just the sort of thing my basic allowance would cover – and with such a compact borough everyone lives within a couple of miles of the town hall.

The way I see it, being a councillor is something that half the members squeeze in around a normal day job and, if they are lucky, a personal life too. One or two live within easy walking distance of the town centre, but the rest cannot really fit it all in without driving. With 7 or 8 hours work, commuting time on top of that, 8 hours sleep, and maybe 2 or 3 hours of council meeting to fit in during a typical day the wait for a bus and the walk at either end can take an hour out of the 3 or 4 hours of free time you are getting. Yes, our councillors should do all they can, as we all should, but bear in mind the practical side of it.

The other half of the council are pensioners who may have the spare time to wait for buses, but those meetings can go on. Should they be going off at 11pm to walk in the cold just as a matter of principle? If they lived where I live they would find a long uphill walk after getting off the bus. I don’t enjoy it much myself and I’m still relatively young.

Resorting to car use makes sense in most cases so I wouldn’t knock that – I just think that claiming for it is a bit mean.

Oops. I went on a bit. I shall start a new post for the other story.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Danivon

    I didn’t claim for travel either. Most of the time I could walk, but there were times when it was impractical (such as work constraints, or another meeting elsewhere).

    However, one thing to bear in mind about Doug Murdoch is that he does often give lifts to other councillors. That won’t appear in a simplistic reading of a report on expenses, but I thought encouraging car-sharing was also ‘green’.

    Sometimes, a bus would not be a good method of transport anyway – they aren’t always reliable, sometimes get cancelled, and in wet weather with a load of order papers to carry it’s no fun, especially for our more elderly members.

  • Skuds

    Good point – I had a lift or two from Doug myself. For site visits I got lifts from Jim or the planning officer – I never used our car because Jayne always had it and I was always coming from the station anyway.

    Planning site visits would be impossible by bus, which I think everyone recognises, although I reckon there might be a case to be made for the council to use 12-seater minibuses for that sort of thing.

    I even didn’t claim for a £70 rail fare to York, but to be honest thats because I kept forgetting about it and when I remembered it was more than a year old so I decided not to bother.