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Deputy editor’s comment: Ousted roads chief was paid generously to take on poisoned chalice

Deputy editor Adam King

Deputy editor Adam King

 

There is a prevalent myth that portrays our district and county councillors as heroic volunteers, giving up their free time for the greater good of the community.

While I don’t deny the majority of our local councillors are in the job for the right reasons, we shouldn’t forget they get paid thousands of pounds to do that job. Our expectations of them should be higher than just that of a plucky amateur.

Take Councillor Janet Blake, who was recently removed from her post as the county council’s transport boss after less than a year at the helm.

Mrs Blake was paid £20,000 for her cabinet role plus the £10,000 basic allowance all county councillors receive and an additional £5,300 for being a member of Aylesbury Vale District Council (top earner Martin Tett has an allowance of £39,700 plus the £10,000 basic allowance. The total paid to all county councillors is £852,000).

As I said, they are not exactly volunteers and so taxpayers should expect plenty from them.

Last year during the Tring Road roadworks which caused absolute chaos, I got the sense that Mrs Blake – then new in the role –already felt under the cosh.

Herald reporters would repeatedly struggle to get hold of her for comment (bizarrely she doesn’t have a mobile phone).

We would then get a call from the county council’s media department asking for queries to be directed through them instead. This is totally against convention – as an elected politician there was an expectation for Mrs Blake to talk directly to us. That she wanted someone to answer for her perhaps gives an insight into the pressure she was already feeling in the role.

But I do have sympathy for Mrs Blake, someone who (when you do manage to speak to her) comes across as personable, bubbly and down-to-earth. The transport portfolio is probably the most important for the average voter, but it is a poisoned chalice.

Due to years of underfunding and mismanagement, Mrs Blake inherited a road network filled with potholes and traffic jams.

Her roads team are contracted out to the private sector with all the inflexibility that brings.

They haven’t yet managed to find a way of fixing a pothole which doesn’t then crack again days later.

The department also has a fascination with building under-used bus and cycle lanes and replacing roundabouts with traffic lights at every opportunity.

So, my message to Mrs Blake’s replacement, Ruth Vigor-Hedderly is: Good luck! If you do succeed you’ll have earned it.

 

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