More and more questions are being asked about the above issue which I covered in a post last week.
The National covered the matter for a 2nd time last week, telling us that the police had been notified:
An article in the Helensburgh Advertiser last week is worth reading at the following link:
I sent the following email this morning to all councillors which outlines some of the questions that arise. It will be interesting to see where this all leads.
I noted the statement attributed to Cllr Robert G MacIntyre in the Helensburgh Advertiser last week, as follows:
It may have been my fault, but I wasn’t advised at the time that voting on council tax while I was in arrears was an offence.
As I may be quoted this week in the same paper, it’s only fair to make you aware of what I said when I was called by the reporter on Friday. I made it clear that a) personal circumstances, no matter what they are, are not an excuse for 2 consecutive years of arrears and b) Robert’s statement cannot be correct, for the following reasons:
- The issue is clear in the code of conduct.
- It is reinforced in the guidance on the code of conduct.
- It is explicit in the council’s constitution.
- Even if none of the above was read by Robert, ignorance of the law is never an excuse.
I know from Judy Orr that, while she is under no obligation to do this, she checks the arrears position each year and that councillors are alerted to any issues. Here are Judy’s words:
I would only pass on details to senior officers if a councillor was likely to be in arrears at the budget meeting – I won’t pass them on early.
The responsibility always lies with the individual councillor – there should not be any reliance on checks carried out by officers. I just try and be helpful through doing these checks – it’s not an official process.
Judy does more than she is obliged to do I suggest and good on her. The bottom line is as she states, it’s the responsibility of the individual councillor. But her words above beg questions of “senior officers”. That is why I asked the questions below last Wednesday, the day someone in this council decided to contact the police. It made me wonder what was different 4 years ago on Wednesday, or 3 years ago. Were the police only contacted because I released Robert’s name in order to ensure none of the rest of us was tarnished by this? Or were the police informed because of my questions below? Who knows.
My questions, even more relevant given the agenda for this week’s meeting of the PRS committee, were as follows:
For both 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 years:
- How many standard reminders were sent to this councillor about his council tax arrears and on what dates please?
- How many times and on what dates did you or some other officer(s) alert this councillor to the issue please?
- When did this councillor pay off the arrears please and was any external debt collection agency involved?
- Apart from you Judy, how many other council officers were made aware of this issue and who were they please?
- Did any officer alert the respective council leaders, formally or informally, prior to the 2013 and 2014 budgets, ie Cllr McCuish and Cllr Walsh?
- Was any consideration given by officers to alerting the police/CPS/Crown Office once this councillor had voted on the budget? If not, why not please?
- Was this matter considered at any meeting of council officers or at any meetings between council officers and senior councillors and if so, can I see the minutes please?
Lastly, I quote below the relevant parts from the latest version of the council’s constitution for your information.
Responsibilities to the Council as a Member of the Public
The law makes specific provision that if a councillor is in two months’ arrears with payment of Council tax that councillor may not participate in certain decisions concerning Council tax issues, in order to preserve public confidence that councillors are taking decisions in the general public interest. Similar considerations should apply in other forms of dealings between you and the Council where indebtedness may arise. Whilst you are a member of the community, you are also a representative of that community and of the Council to which you are elected. As there is potential for public perception of abuse of position and poor leadership, you must seek to avoid being in debt to the Council.
If you owe a debt to the Council, for example, in relation to rent due for a council house or commercial premises where the Council is the landlord, you must put in place at the earliest opportunity arrangements for repayment. You must avoid being in a situation which might lead the public to believe that preferential treatment is being sought. You must not participate in any decision which may create suspicion of a conflict of interest. For example, where you are in arrears of rent for a council house, you must not participate in decisions affecting the levels of rent to be paid by council house tenants.