Council borders ‘on corruption’

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LIKE so many public sector bodies accused of financial impropriety, councillors and officials at Keighley Town Council ignored the most fundamental fact of all – they are the guardians of the public purse and it is their civic duty to spend taxpayers’ money wisely and responsibly at all times.

As today’s expose by The Yorkshire Post reveals, the politicians and officers concerned believed, erroneously, that they were not accountable to local residents – a cavalier attitude epitomised by Mayor Graham Mitchell, the council’s chairman, refusing to answer questions from this newspaper and instructing our reporter to put his pen away.

However, it is thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, passed into law a decade ago, and also the dogged perseverance of campaigners like retired accountant Elizabeth Mitchell that the authority is now answerable to the court of public opinion. Its failings are numerous and range from the financial mismanagement of Keighley’s new civic centre to the purchase of two horses to pull an antique police cart at the council’s museum. They had to be sold at a loss – one animal wasn’t strong enough to pull the contraption while the other was found to be “skittish” around children.

Most perturbing of all, however, is the extent to which contracts were not put to tender, the number of unauthorised payments made to relatives of politicians and officials and the failure of individuals to declare “their financial and pecuniary interests” – one of the cornerstones of sound governance.

Even though matters are now being rectified, this only happened after a staff member warned that the lack of compliance was “bordering on the line of corruption”.

Despite this, not a single individual has resigned over this malpractice – yet another dereliction of duty. And, until this happens, it is impossible to see how Keighley Town Council can command the confidence of the people that it purports to serve. If the individuals concerned are incapable of taking the only honourable course of action open to them while inquiries continue into flawed decision-making processes, the town’s MP Kris Hopkins should not hesitate to act. He is, after all, the Local Government Minister tasked with maintaining the highest possible standards of probity – even after the proverbial horse has bolted on his own patch.

In the firing line: The role of female combat troops

THE DEFENCE Secretary’s desire to see female soldiers undertaking combat roles is a sincere one; Michael Fallon is a prominent member of a modern Conservative party which prides itself on being a meritocracy that champions equality for all.

However, Mr Fallon – a politician who has no military experience of his own – might be advised, in this instance, to seek the wise counsel of those veterans who have served on the front line, and who have now spoken out and expressed a number of misgivings.

Not only do the critics include many of Britain’s most respected military leaders, but a number of female soldiers have spoken out. Major Judith Webb says society should accept “the simple fact that women are different” while former Army officer Ashley Merry said: “This is not be time to be experiment with something new to be politically correct. If it’s not broken, why try and fix it?”

They are powerful testimonies that Mr Fallon should respect, especially as the evidence suggests that very few women possess the necessary physical and mental attributes for frontline fighting. For, while many will welcome his signal of intent at the end of a week in which the Church of England appointed its first female bishop, the defence of the realm is too important to be left to PC sensitivities and gender balance, even in these more enlightened times.

On red alert: A&E hospitals at breaking point

THE political ‘blame game’ over missed A&E targets is not going to help overstretched hospitals as the surge in Christmas admissions gathers pace.

What will help, however, is patients and relatives being extremely tolerant and respectful of those doctors, nurses and ancillary staff doing their very best over the festive period to maintain the high standards expected of the NHS. Their morale does not deserve to be undermined by pointscoring politicians like Labour’s Andy Burnham.

Furthermore the difficulties associated with ‘winter pressures’ are another reminder that A&E should only be used as a last resort, and that it is up to family doctors to provide a more robust – and effective – out-of-hours care service.