Jim O’Neill says last week’s revelations that some councillors are taking decisions over how to spend our money without having paid their own fair share should have implications for what those councillors are permitted to do.
A report last week from the BBC says that some 32 Scottish councillors owe their own councils arrears totalling £140,000 in unpaid council tax. These are people who, every day, make decisions about spending our money on council business, while not having paid their fair share themselves.
This investigation started out in a small story in the “Rotten Boroughs” page of Private Eye. Someone at the magazine then had the brilliant idea of using Freedom of Information queries to ask every council in Britain how many councillors owed council tax debts to their councils. They got enough of a response to make it a story in its own right, and to pressure reluctant councils to cough up the information.
Armed with a mass of information they then used their investigative skills to identify a number of specific councillors, of all parties, and to create a website list containing all the information they had. Faced with the legendary Private Eye investigation techniques, some councillors even outed themselves in a welter of apologies and promises of repayment. It would be interesting to see how many carried through these promises.
BBC, using the same techniques, have now identified all the councils in Scotland where money is owed by sitting councillors. 12 of the 32 councils are affected, from Glasgow to the Western Isles, and the money owed is not insignificant. However, not being the scurrilous magazine that Private Eye is, they seem to have taken a decision not to pursue the individuals involved.
That, I think, is a mistake. When I am voting for a councillor, apart from their party affiliation, I want to know whether they are candidates in good standing. Luckily, in North Ayrshire where I live, there are no councillors in debt to the council. But in those 12 councils, I think the electors have a right to know who they are. Let’s name them and shame them, regardless of party.
Indeed, I believe that my own party, Labour, should take the lead in identifying party members in this position, and should ensure that no candidate is selected to fight a seat if they owe a debt to the council in which they are seeking to stand. Further, current sitting councillors should not be given posts of special responsibility as long as they remain in arrears. I know this might sound harsh to some but I believe that those who are spending our council tax should have paid what they owe, just like the vast majority of the electorate.
So, Alex Salmond’s venture into talk show comedy is proving a bit of a disaster, according to the majority of critics except in that well known independent paper, the Herald’s nationalist sister paper. In his first show, the guest was not a well-known Nationalist politician, or someone from his horse racing punditry past, but David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, a man whom the SNP government and members profess to despise. I presume that Mr Davis was well paid for his performance.
Salmond then went on, in a subsequent show, to make a very laddish and grossly offensive joke about a number of senior female politicians. When Scottish Labour raised concerns about the joke, Salmond’s response was that we were only annoyed because Kez had not been referenced in the “joke”. Mr Salmond, the world has moved on from that kind of Jim Davidson comment and more should have been expected of a former First Minister of our country. If that is how he sees successful women, it is just as well that he is no longer either in Holyrood or Westminster. I hope that the women of any constituency where he seeks re-election in the future remember his views of them and send him homeward to think again.