Just over a year since the election of a new Scottish Borders Council (SBC) and we are to be treated to another by-election to replace a councillor who finds that he cannot give full commitment to the job while looking after his own business or working for another boss.
Why do these people stand for public office if they have to walk away after a year in the job? Do they know that it costs upwards of £30,000 to hold a by-election?
A few months after we had the ridiculous resignation of Nicholas Watson from his seat and his Borders Party to take up a job as a shepherd in Cumberland, we now have the resignation of a Tory, Nathaniel Buckingham, in West Peeblesshire, because he cannot manage his council duties as well as manage his own company.
At least he was new to the job and has the excuse that he didn’t know how much time it takes up. Watson went into the election after a five-year spell as a councillor, so he knew what it meant, but the likelihood was that he had already lined up his new career before he unexpectedly got re-elected.
One has to ask if Mr Buckingham attended any of the excellent classes, “Preparing for Public Office”, run by Scottish Borders Council leading up to the May 2012 election? If he did, then he should have known that to be a councillor, in administration or opposition, needs commitment – and that commitment means between 50 and 70 hours per week of helping constituents, holding surgeries, and attending meetings of outside bodies such as community and school councils and the like, on top of normal duties as a councillor, attending committee and council meetings.
Anyone doing less than that, or worse still, running a business or holding down a full-time job in addition to his or her council duties, is not really worth the basic salary of more than £16,000 for being a back-bench councillor and should hand it back. Local government, like central government, is, or should be, about value for money.
The job of being a councillor nowadays is quite complex and anyone trying to do it on a part-time basis is not giving that value for money if he or she is being awarded the same as someone else who is working full time for the benefit of the electorate.
If we are to spend another £30,000 on a by-election, can we not perhaps encourage any other elected councillor who cannot give full-time commitment to the job to declare it now and we can then have one by-election across the Borders to get rid of the part-timers in one fell swoop?