The Yorkshire Post says: Reform needed on poll fees. Greater transparency essential

THE Yorkshire Post is today calling for an urgent review into payments being made to returning officers, the select few individuals who receive substantial additional remuneration on top of already generous executive salaries.

Votes are counted at First Direct Arena in Leeds.
Votes are counted at First Direct Arena in Leeds.

In an age of austerity, spending cuts and hard-pressed public finances, it is a matter of serious concern that there is a lack of transparency over the payments made to those who oversee elections or referenda.

By the standards of most taxpayers, these additional payments amount to a substantial wage in themselves, notably the £65,567 paid to Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan, on top of his annual salary package of £204,344.

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There is no doubt that Mr Riordan carries a great deal of responsibility in his role as a returning officer, yet it is hard to see how the work does not overlap with his day-to-day duties. His pledge to declare additional earnings in future is welcome, but only comes as a result of tenacious inquiries from this newspaper.

Volunteering such information misses the point. It is unacceptable that taxpayers should only be able to discover what is being paid as a result of a newspaper investigation.

This information should be freely available. If it is not, that will only fuel public suspicion that there is a clandestine element to the payments and foster mistrust of the political establishment.

Nationwide, payments to returning officers run into the millions of pounds. The public deserves to be told their extent and how they are justified.

The Yorkshire Post calls on the Cabinet Office Minister, David Lidington, to commit to a full review of these payments, with the intention of establishing proper transparency.

Returning officers are at the heart of our democratic process. Surely then, voters have an absolute right to know what they are paid and why.