Councillors in spotlight over low meetings attendance

Questions: Campaigner Michael Sylvester has questioned councillors' low attendance at meetings
Questions: Campaigner Michael Sylvester has questioned councillors' low attendance at meetings
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Three Rotherham councillors have each attended just one meeting in the last six months – the bare minimum needed to prevent them automatically losing their seat on the authority – a campaigner for local authority reform in the town has found.

Michael Sylvester is a former councillor who campaigns for change in the way the local authority is organised and operates and has combed attendance figures for all its members.

He has found that three ward councillors have each only attended on meeting from the end of October last year, through to Tuesday April 24.

Any councillor who does not attend any meetings over a six months period would automatically lose their seat, unless there were special circumstances to be taken into consideration by the local authority.

Of the councillors highlighted by Mr Sylvester, one had been scheduled to attend eight meetings, another seven and their colleague three meetings.

Tracking details for councillor attendance are now available on the council’s website, a development which Mr Sylvester attributes to his work in previously highlighting low attendance statistics among some councillors.

He said there were another four councillors who had each attended less than one meeting each month in the last half-year, and 22 more who had been present for fewer than ten meetings in that period.

That record, he believes, suggests Rotherham has too many councillors for the size of the borough and said: “This is again evidence we have too many councillors in Rotherham doing too little for too much money.

“At a time when services are being slashed and jobs cut it shows that the council chamber is extremely overstaffed.”

Councillors qualify for an annual allowance of £11,400 a year and he believes in some circumstances that figure cannot be justified against the number of meetings attended.

He has also questioned the need for Rotherham to have its current number of councillors, with one member attending four meetings in six months when that was, in fact, a 100 per cent attendance record.

The situation: “Does certainly show we have so many councillors overall in the chamber we can’t find committee places for them all.”

“We have to make sure that councillors turn up and represent our communities, especially when they don’t lose money for not doing so and would urge as many people as possible to check out their councillors attendance and if they see anything to question them” said Mr Sylvester.

Rotherham Council has confirmed the law requires councillors to attend at least one meeting every six months, and a spokesman said: “Where a councillor provides a valid reason for their non-attendance before this six-month period elapses, the council may give them a dispensation so that they do not automatically fall foul of the six-month rule.

“As attendance statistics are published on the council’s website, the onus is on the council’s political groups to manage the attendance of their members and ensure that a good attendance record is maintained.

“There is more to the workload of councillors than simply attending committee meetings, this includes holding ward surgeries, meetings with officers and representatives of other bodies to progress priority issues for their wards and any casework received from constituents.”

Numbers of councillors is to be reduced from May 2020, following a review by the Local government Boundary Commission for England, with numbers expected to fall to 59 from the current 63.

The annual basic allowance for councillors can be claimed irrespective of workload as it is not a salary and not related to performance or duty.