Politicians voting to give themselves more money never goes down well, but Southwark Council’s decision to introduce “golden goodbyes” for outgoing cabinet members could still not have come at a worse time.
It has been less than a month since the council announced its proposed new budget, which included a 2% council tax rise and cuts to services across the borough. In an interview with the News in December, finance boss Councillor Fiona Colley warned of “a hard few years ahead” in the wake of £47m in harsh government local spending cuts.
Yet Labour councillors last week rubber-stamped plans to give full-time departing cabinet members thousands of pounds when they leave office – regardless of whether they are deselected by council leader Peter John due to bad job performance, resign, or are simply voted out by disgruntled residents at local elections.
Cllr John defended these payments, which can rise to well over £10,000, as “small”, and said they were essential in ensuring that people from all walks of life can afford to give up their regular jobs to take full-time positions at the council’s top table. This is a valid concern and admirable aim, but the decision to introduce this new policy while bemoaning the huge government cuts in almost the same breath jars as out of touch.
Never mind the fact that by entering the cut-throat world of politics, in which former MP Enoch Powell famously declared that “all careers end in failure”, cabinet members know that their livelihoods depend on convincing the electorate and their own part group leaders that they are doing a good job.
As Lib Dem councillor Ben Johnson, who voted against the new policy, said last week: “This is the path we have all chosen.” Sacrifices will be made across the borough due to government cuts – cabinet members should not be exempt.