by Alan Watkins
he Mayor of Medway has cost local council taxpayers £150,000. But is it so shocking?
Looking at the figures unearthed by the Labour councillors it’s not too surprising.
Whether you think it is right the mayoral office exists at all is more relevant.
According to the miffed opposition, the bill breaks down as staff (£74,000), another £24,000 went on parties and events, £1,200 on ceremonial clothes and £12,000 so far on his chauffeur-driven car.
These days the mayor is no more than a symbol. But he does an important job – one that goes back more than 400 years.
He is the Queen’s representative, the first citizen of the borough. He’s the meeter and greeter of the council and chairs their often acrimonious meetings.
Some mayors can be self-important prigs, others hard-working servants of an authority that needs to wave the flag. All raise a lot of cash for local charities.
Those staffing costs are reasonable.
There’s a secretary plus three officers that need to be on hand at different times when he is on duty. Then there’s things like computers, phones, cleaners, paper, postage and photocopying.
The cash spent on parties and events is a bit of Medway cheap-skating, to be honest.
Take out cleaning, repairs, room rental (well, someone has to meet the cost so why not the mayor?), hired waiters and maids, cooking and preparing everything from petits fours to biscuits you can forget the pate de foie gras.
The days of a roast swan with all the trimmings were long gone even before I got involved with events as a cub reporter. So £24,000 seems to cover a fair number of stale biscuits!
Ceremonial clothing costs are questionable.
One mayor whose name I have since forgotten spent more than four hundred quid on a fancy hat with black plumes. There were no queries from the politicians then: it was left to the Medway Messenger to uncover the truth.
The lady was never seen in it after its debut at the mayor-making ceremony. (She did look as though she was auditioning for a bit part in an Edwardian drama though).
Do we actually need our mayors to appear in flowing fancy dress? – No. Should they dress up at all? – Definitely. It’s a visible sign of their office (along with the civic chain).
It’s a tradition as important as Queens, uniformed soldiers and bewigged judges. Our outgoing, machismo mayor, Vaughan Hewett is one of the modern breed of Tory councillors.
He’s ideally suited as figurehead, chairer of meetings and shaker of hands.
The question is, will he gain a position of importance within the council now that his year has come to an end.
Or will he be one of the numerous Conservative cast-offs – which seems to happen to most of this council’s civic “leaders”.
Labour councillors are annoyed because they are being barred again from holding the civic office. Fair or not, it is politics.
Would Labour ever allow the Tories to hold office in future if they gain overall control of the council?
Meanwhile, their task should be holding the administration to account. I see little sign of that.