A COUNCILLOR has called for a review of elected members' pay to encourage more women, young people and working class Borderers to stand for office. 

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council on Wednesday June 26, Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell asked the ruling Tory/Independent coalition to take the matter up with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).

Councillor Bell, who chair of the council’s audit and scrutiny committee is paid £18,524 a year, 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 councillor 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 leader of Scottish Borders Council, Shona Haslam, who receives a salary of £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 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, 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 Scottish Borders Council’s 34 elected members has now reached £757,910 for 2018/19, following a small increase from 2017/18.

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

The highest paid member of Scottish Borders Council is councillor Haslam,  while Leaderdale and Melrose councillor David Parker receives the second highest, £25,494, for his role as the council’s convener.

The rural nature of the Scottish Borders, and the size of the region, means that councillors claimed £61,119 in travel expenses during 2018/19.

Councillors can also claim for the telephone and broadband services they use as part of their role, which cost the local authority £29,001 in 2018/19, which is actually £1,132 less than the previous year.