Call goes out for more cash to be splashed on Borders councillors’ wages

Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell.
Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell.

Money talks, and more of it would encourage a wider array of Borderers to speak up for their communities, according to a Borders councillor calling for a pay rise for him and his 33 colleagues.

Money might not be able to buy love, as the Beatles once noted, but it might help secure wider demographic representation among Scottish Borders Council’s membership, reckons Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell.

He wants councillors’ remuneration to be reviewed as he believes splashing the cash would encourage more women, young people and working-class Borderers to stand for office. 

At the latest full meeting of the council, Mr Bell asked the authority’s ruling Conservative-independent coalition to take the matter up with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).

Mr Bell, paid £18,524 a year as chairman of the council’s audit and scrutiny committee, told the chamber: “Notwithstanding the gender balance in my own SNP group here, the majority of Scottish Borders councillors are male, middle class and at least middle-aged.

“If we are ever going to get demographic balance that represents the public, then the salary and support for councillors needs to allow working parents to participate fully in council activities.

“MPs are paid about £77,000. It’s wrong, in my view, that MSPs, who are on a salary of £62,000, should let councillors’ pay slip to £17,000, thereby disabling our ranks and diminishing our role.

“COSLA has called for mutual respect between MPs, MSPs and councillors, and that is not achieved if there is a significant disparity in councillor salary. 

“COSLA has also called for widening the demographic. I hope you’ll be able to make those points to COSLA.”

Fellow Tweeddale East councillor and council leader Shona Haslam, paid £33,992 a year, replied: “I do think that we must encourage a wider demographic coming into this council.

“From my own perspective, this is the first job I’ve ever had where I couldn’t claim childcare expenses for evening meetings, and that is certainly something I’d like to look into and push forward. 

“Not just childcare expenses but caring expenses because it’s not just mum with small children, it’s also people who have elderly parents as that can act as a barrier to people who want to get involved in this work.

“We all know how busy we are in the evenings and at weekends as well, so I’ll certainly send that on. 

“In terms of the pay, obviously we all do this for the love of the job, and we all see this as a public duty. However, it would be nice to perhaps get some of the same support, not necessarily salary, in terms of casework and that kind of thing.”

The combined salary and expenses of the council’s 34 elected members has now reached £757,910.

Councillors are paid a basic salary of £16,994 a year, and the 14 senior councillors holding executive positions are paid £22,329.

The highest paid member of the council is Mrs Haslam, and Leaderdale and Melrose councillor David Parker picks up the second highest salary, £25,494, for his role as convener.

The rural nature of the Borders, plus the size of the region, meant that councillors claimed £61,119 in travel expenses last financial year.

Councillors can also claim for telephone and broadband services, and that cost the local authority £29,001 last year.

Mrs Haslam agreed to pass on Mr Bell’s call for a review of councillors’ wages.