Councillors get £20,000-a-year assistant to deal with public
COUNCIL bosses have been accused of wasting taxpayers' money by giving councillors an assistant to help them to deal with the public.
Conservative finance spokesman Cllr Ian Bowyer said the Labour administration was spending £20,000 a year to help with councillors' casework at the same time as it was trying to plug a £3million hole in its budget.
"I find it unbelievable that a full-time member of our customer services team is to be transferred to sort out councillors' casework," he said.
"This is a kick in the teeth for our customers who are already having to wait too long to be dealt with at our front desk. It will put more pressure on our customer services staff."
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He said the council's Cabinet had already given itself a support officer. "Now a further £20,000 is to be thrown at councillors, all of whom are already paid an allowance to deal with casework."
But Cllr Peter Smith, deputy leader of the council, said: "We are constantly reviewing our internal processes to ensure we work in the most efficient way.
"As a co-operative council we encourage communities and residents to get involved with local issues which put demands on councillors.
"To help us meet the needs of residents, changes have been made to some staffing arrangements. A customer services adviser has been allocated on a temporary basis to a member support officer role.
"The role covers all elected councillors from all political parties in Plymouth and will see whether a little extra support can help benefit wards by helping us to deal with the concerns of residents quicker."
A council spokesperson said: "The role is an investment in improving services by supporting all councillors to respond to demands and has been proven to work well in other councils."
It would bring a "co-ordinated and consistent approach" to councillors' casework and highlight when there are a number of people in a similar area having the same problem.
It would enable councillors to "devote more time to their leadership role" and provide "qualitative information" that can be fed back to departments or broken down by ward.
"This role is in addition to the part-time Cabinet PA post which is necessary in order to manage the diaries of the extremely busy and productive Cabinet members, many of whom also work full-time as well as carrying out tasks relating to their portfolios and ward responsibilities," the spokesperson said.
Conservative leader Vivien Pengelly said: "Councillors should not need extra staff to do their casework – they should keep in touch with their residents and be aware of local problems. To create more bureaucracy and red tape is quite unnecessary and costly.
"This is the wrong decision at the wrong time – council spending should be focused on providing front-line services. It is beginning to look like we shall see Labour hiking up council tax next year to pay for this."