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Seeing Red: Salaries and Net Zero Watch

Seeing Red is my regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. This opinion piece was first published on May 9, 2022.

They say a week is a long time in politics, regardless of who you might support politically, the past few weeks have been tumultuous, worrying and perplexing. It’s been a challenge to keep up with all the wriggling and wrangling in Westminster.

The last few days have also seen a cohort of eager, freshly elected politicians of all colours being voted onto a variety of councils up and down the UK. I imagine for them, like the vast majority of people already elected to public service, the values of honesty, transparency and truthfulness in politics matter. As does accountability. The seven Nolan principles of conduct in public life, of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. Matter, and matter a great deal. Holders of elected public office should act solely in terms of representing their constituents and achieving the best outcomes.

It’s often said that all politicians are on the gravy train. But, consider that most TDC councillors have an allowance – not a wage – of just under £5000. KCC Councillors receive a handsome £17,000 (I take £15k) a lot of councillors are actually doing an enormous amount of work for that allowance. Residents can vote them out, and do so, if they feel their Councillors aren’t putting the required effort in.

By contrast our MPs earn more, much more. You might argue that they have more responsibility and more to do. That ought to be true. Consider South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, he takes his annual salary of £81,932.04 plus £24,000 a year from his business Beak Kemmenoe, Chartered Accountants and Chartered Tax Advisers, and has around £160,000 to run and staff his office and as reimbursement for his own expenses.

With that kind of financial reward I’d expect my local MP, any MP, to be working extremely hard, diligently and making a positive impact.

At a recent public meeting with Southern Water, which I and other community activists like Save Our Seas Ramsgate had relentlessly pressured for, we had the pleasure of being told by Southern Water’s handsomely paid Chief Executive Ian McAulay that improvements to prevent sewerage spills in our seas will be made.

His annual salary for 20-21 was £420,000 plus a £517,000 bonus. It was fantastic to hear about these planned improvements but disheartening to hear him say they would eventually be reflected in our Southern Water bills and that he thought water in the UK is ‘cheap’.

This is especially galling, taking into consideration the eye watering profits privatised utility companies have made. Since these monopolies were privatised in 1989 free of debt and given a “green dowry” of £1bn, more than £6.5bn has been given to shareholders. That money could have, and should have, fixed the problems of antiquated Victorian infrastructure, instead it has lined some very deep pockets. Water is big – and profitable – business.

I objected to our local MP acting as the chair of this public meeting. Although to be fair, he was quite a good chair – but then it’s not a particularly difficult role.

Many of us felt he should have been available to answer questions and to be properly accountable to his constituents. Of course, questions were put to him, but as chair he wasn’t able to fully answer them. That wasn’t my only objection. The venue was out of the way and residents needed to register on-line with Craig’s office and submit questions in advance. But not only that, on 25th of February more than 200 residents co-signed with me, a letter to him, disappointingly he has failed to respond. At all. This isn’t the first time. Hardly open or accountable behaviour.

Our joint letter was about the need for a windfall tax on energy companies and questioned his membership of the Net Zero Scrutiny group and our concerns that it is attacking all means to decarbonise and that they are long-standing climate change deniers.

It turns out that this little known group is also chaired by Craig Mackinlay and that whilst Net Zero Watch states it won’t take funding from fossil fuel investors – it does take millions of pounds of ‘dark money’ funded by US oil. This group would like to see fracking across the UK, including here in Kent – a process that uses a staggering amount of water. Southern Water would stand to profit, and they’d also like to reopen coal power plants. Net Zero Watch has also repeatedly claimed that “the cost of living crisis is the result of net-zero policies.’ That’s a very remarkably convenient assertion, most of us know that Brexit has had a phenomenally negative impact and is costing us £1m every single hour. Not forgetting of course our local MP’s founding role in UKIP championing Brexit.

I think it’s time Craig Mackinlay was clear about his relationship with Southern Water, about any financial relationship or payments and benefits accrued due to his involvement in the Net Zero Scrutiny group, and I’d like a prompt response on behalf of the 200 residents that wrote to him in February.

I think it’s time overdue for Craig to deliver value for money.

The full open democracy report can be viewed here.