IF it was not for the Freedom of Information Act, and the successful campaign to compel public bodies to release matters of public interest which would previously have remained confidential, readers of The Yorkshire Post would be none the wiser about those elected councillors who have been the subject of legal proceedings for council tax non-payment.
What is disturbing, however, is the fact that many local authorities still do not believe that they have a duty to disclose such details. While some responded to the request promptly and professionally, others only did so after this newspaper lodged an appeal against their intransigence while two – Leeds and Sheffield – still refuse to comply.
Bizarrely, Sheffield Council said the public had no right to know “private” information under data protection rules while Leeds Council said it would be too difficult and time-consuming to supply the relevant details before saying no councillors had arrears in excess of two months at the last budget meeting. Both John Mothersole and Tom Riordan, the chief executives concerned, need to do better than this – especially as these are two of the authorities seeking even greater policy powers under devolution.
This issue should not be open to doubt. A recent tribunal compelled Bolton Council to provide full transparency, not least because these are the individuals responsible for setting the council tax in the first place. This need is illustrated by the incredulity in Bradford where those being pursued for non-payment include former council leader Dave Green who received nearly £50,000 in allowances in 2014-15. How galling to all those households, and especially those on low incomes, who made sure they paid their bill on time that they scrimped and saved while their city’s political figurehead could not get his own financial affairs in order.
Two things need to happen following these revelations. First, councils must ensure full disclosure, as set out in the Bolton ruling, and this requirement should be the responsibility of each chief executive as part of their formal duties as election returning officer. Second any councillor convicted of a non-payment offence should be removed from office and a by-election held. Democracy demands nothing less.
Moral awakening: Symbolism of Obama visit
THE symbolism could not have been more striking as Barack Obama became not only the first American president to visit Hiroshima since the nuclear attack which ended the Second World War, but he also hugged two survivors in a heartfelt act of humanity.
Though some questioned his decision not to apologise for the suffering – the President was not even born when the world’s first Atom bomb was dropped on the Japanese city on August 6, 1945 – this act of remembrance showed the extent to which the world has changed in the intervening seven decades.
This was made clear by President Obama’s remarks which were a moral awakening to the world. “Today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is,” he said. “It is worth protecting and extending to every child. That is the future we can choose.”
Yet it is regrettable that President Obama chose the end of his presidency, rather than the beginning, to express a desire for a nuclear-free world. That said, it is also difficult to envisage either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, his likely successors, speaking with such gravitas or, better still, pledging to reduce America’s nuclear arsenal during their dispiritng presidential campaigns. In this regard, President Obama will be a very tough act to follow.
Defining greatness. Putting North on the map
MERE Mention of the ‘Great Exhibition of the North’, George Osborne’s wheeze to broaden his appeal, conjures images of the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851 which was a genuine celebration of British manufacturing.
If the 21st century equivalent is to be as successful and purposeful, it needs to be clearly defined in order to avoid a repeat of the undignified rows when organisers were scrambling for suitable exhibits for the Millennium Dome.
With Welcome to Yorkshire’s Sir Gary Verity asked by the Chancellor to oversee the venture, there’s every likelihood that it will exceed expectations. Now that Bradford has become the first city to signal a desire to host the attraction, there needs to be a debate about what constitutes the North for these purposes – and how best to showcase the whole area in the best possible light. No pressure, Sir Gary...