Tom Richmond: Council’s welcome moves on transparency and trust

Leeds councillors who fall behind with council tax payments will now be named.
Leeds councillors who fall behind with council tax payments will now be named.
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REGULAR readers will know that I was one of the most vociferous critics of Leeds City Council when it refused to reveal the identities of those councillors who were subjected to legal action last year for non-payment of council tax.

Even-handedness rightly demands that I highlight the steps that the council, and chief executive Tom Riordan, now intend to take to restore public trust after pressure from The Yorkshire Post forced them to name names.

Details of councillors subjected to action will now be released annually when details of members’ allowances are published – and Leeds, to its credit, is going much further than other authorities who normally only provide such information when a formal Freedom of Information request is made.

There is a caveat – those councillors subjected to proceedings will be informed by the Assistant Chief Executive (Citizens & Communities) and invited “to make representations if they believe there are compelling personal reasons why the information should not be published”.

If necessary, the said official will “carry out a detailed analysis of the reasons for the summons and any other relevant information” before deciding – in conjunction with the chief executive – whether to publish or not.

“Where information has been withheld, this will be made clear in the annual publication, without referencing the individual members concerned or the reasons for such information being withheld,” adds a report to councillors.

Given that non-disclosure will inevitably lead to more awkward questions, I have every confidence that Leeds Council will not err in future and suggest other authorities now follow this transparency test with interest.

And, let’s face it, councillors are duty-bound to keep their details up-to-date. When Leeds Council started obfuscating, the suspicion was that it was to spare the embarrassment of any senior politicians who were taking spending decisions when their own financial affairs were not in order.

Yet, on closer inspection, most of the cases involved councillors not informing the council of changes in their personal circumstances. This is not a reason to suppress information. Quite the opposite. If they can’t run their own lives, how can they be effective councillors?

As such, the public has a right to know and the onus is now on the councillors concerned – and not Leeds Council – to avoid any further embarrassments.

IT remains a matter of concern that Brexit is one of many factors threatening the Northern Ireland peace process.

The future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland cannot be ignored. If the UK leaves the single market, the return of checkpoints – and their like – will be another grim reminder of the Troubles.

Yet, paradoxically, Northern Ireland’s tortuous path to peace offers a template for Theresa May as Britain prepares to leave the European Union.

Though it was centrist leaders like David Trimble and John Hume who pushed the process forward, it ultimately required two political sworn enemies – the DUP and Sinn Fein – to come together.

This is Mrs May’s challenge. If her Brexit deal is to be passed by 27 EU member states, every nation of the UK and both Houses of Parliament, she has reconcile the most ardent EU federalists and the most Eurosceptic voters.

Good luck.

YOU have to admire a Parliamentary system in which the Prime Minister is required to answer questions once a week.

You have to admire it even more when, after Wednesday’s PMQs, Theresa May made her statement on Brexit’s Article 50 and then responded to 113 backbenchers.

In total, she was at the despatch box for three hours and 21 minutes – I can’t imagine Donald Trump, or other leaders, facing such scrutiny.

IF you’re one of the many BBC devotees who want straight, factual reportage, rather than the opinions of luminaries like political editor Laura Kuenssberg, may I respectfully recommend the Six O’Clock News on Radio 4.

I caught it the other night for the first time in ages and it was a breath of fresh air – a succinct summary of world affairs with none of the snideness of Ms Kuenssberg or anti-Trump views of North America editor Jon Sopel.

THERE are times when I despair of the media. Why the obsession with the legs of Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon when the two leaders met? It’s simply disrespectful and denigrates women – I don’t recall any discussion about the suits worn when Mrs May and Ms Sturgeon’s predecessors, David Cameron and Alex Salmond, respectively, held similar summits.

LOCAL roads are the economy. If one in six, as feared, have to close because they’ve fallen into a such state of disrepair, consumers and businesses 
will all suffer.

Yet, with the repairs backlog now put at £12bn, the piecemeal approach to funding will not work and a change of direction is required. One penny from all fuel duty paid should be ring-fenced for these repairs until they have been carried out. Without this, the long-term bill will become an even greater false economy.

BBC sports presenter George Riley can’t help himself when it comes to 
the inappropriate use of the word ‘absolutely’. His latest example was ‘absolutely fabulous’ – and I can assure you that he wasn’t referring to his own broadcasting skills.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk