The South Wales Evening Post reports that Carmarthenshire county councillors have received pension contributions totalling £426,000 over the last three years, including over £8,000 for former council leader Meryl Gravell.
The scheme was introduced in 2004, and in Carmarthenshire councillors join the Local Government Pension Scheme administered by the Dyfed Pension Fund. The fund's website makes no bones about the fact that this is a very generous scheme, certainly compared with schemes available to the rest of us:
As a County Councillor, you are eligible to join the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).
The LGPS will provide you with a valuable package of benefits which
will help take care of you and your family – all for less than you
Councillors can join the scheme up to the age of 75, and make contributions of 6% of their pay. In common with other schemes, this is tax deductible. They may, with the permission of their council, decide to retire from the age of 50. At any rate, they may choose to retire at age 60 (men and women).
The Dyfed Pension Fund website continues,
As well, the LGPS is contracted-out of the State Second Pension (S2P),
therefore you will pay less National Insurance contributions up until
your State Retirement Age.
After the state retirement age, members of the scheme will find themselves in the unusual position of being able to pay into a pension scheme and not having to make any National Insurance contributions at all.
Unsurprisingly, this benefit will stick in the craws of many, and the Evening Post had no problem finding people willing to condemn it. One argued that in the good old days, being a county councillor was seen as a civic duty and not something you were paid for.
The problem with that was that in the good old days many county councils and other local government bodies were stuffed with people who were independently rich, and to this day the over-60s make up the bulk of our councillors because most people of working age simply cannot afford to become councillors.
If we want to change this, decent pay and pension rights have to be the
best way to attract more ordinary people of working age into local
politics, but as things stand, the system is heavily skewed in favour of older people.
If Carmarthenshire County Council had more councillors of working age and with school-age children, some of its policies might look rather different. Until the elections, for example, the executive member for education and children's services (and "Younger Persons' Champion") was a gentleman in his late 60s or early 70s who believed that the Bible was the the only truly important book.
One further aspect of this story is very strange indeed.
Back in in 2009 the Evening Post ran a story about councillors and the LGPS. It reported then that Carmarthenshire had far more councillors in the scheme (50) than the neighbouring authorities of Swansea (27) and just 9 in Neath Port Talbot. Amazingly, Carmarthenshire also had the fifth highest number of councillors participating in the scheme of any local authority in Wales and England.
When you consider how Carmarthenshire is one of the smaller local authorities, and one of the poorest when compared with England, this is extraordinary. It is also extraordinary that, given the age profile of Carmarthenshire County Council, so many of those who have joined the scheme will be beyond state retirement age, with Meryl Gravell being only the most obvious example.
So while it is right that people should be able to pay into a pension scheme as county councillors, the suspicion that many of the beneficiaries are already in receipt of occupational pensions, the state pension and councillors' allowances will leave a nasty taste.