Tom Richmond: Leeds Council's cover-up over tax affair corrodes trust in politics

IF Communities Secretary Sajid Javid gets his way, every public office-holder may have to swear an oath of allegiance to British values.

Which Leeds councillors have not paid their council tax?

He believes civic and political leaders have a duty to lead by example when it comes to upholding principles of tolerance, democracy and respect.

I’d go further. I would also include a clause on financial probity as a reminder about the duty to spend taxpayers’ money wisely and in the public interest.

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My justification is the inexplicable refusal of Leeds City Council to confirm the identities of four councillors who have been issued with a summons for non-payment of council tax.

If ever there was a prima facie case of local government being brought into disrepute without good reason, it is this.

That the authority has now named Arif Hussain, Pauleen and Ron Grahame and Kim Groves – all Labour councillors – matters not a jot, as without the determination of The Yorkshire Post to elicit the truth, the public would be none the wiser.

Even though most responsible councils have accepted, in an era of transparency, the need for full disclosure because of the high standards expected of elected representatives, Leeds Council had the arrogance to think it could hoodwink ratepayers and then seek to launch a legal block – paid for with public money – to defy not only The Yorkshire Post but the Information Commissioner, who supported our investigation, also.

Worryingly, having spent £1,200 on external legal advice, a further £3,500 of public money was then set aside to ensure the authority could continue to suppress publication of the relevant details.

This matters. It is illegal for councillors to take part in spending decisions when they are in council tax arrears. Which strategic decisions, therefore, are now null and void? We deserve to know.

Such contemptible disregard for the right to know is not helping the city of Leeds’ wider reputation which is a crying shame given council chief executive Tom Riordan and leader Judith Blake led the authority to the Municipal Journal’s coveted council of the year award in 2016. That requires leadership and talent of the highest calibre, which is what makes this faux pas all the more shocking.

Cover-ups like this, I’m afraid, corrode the public’s trust and respect of politicians as we are left to wonder how many more of them are having their misdemeanours concealed at our expense?

If politicians at a local level are determined to behave in this way, then I am afraid that we must call on national ones like Mr Javid to do the right thing.

ONE year on from the Yorkshire floods, I still can’t believe that Liz Truss, the then Environment Secretary, is still in the Cabinet.

As I wrote at the time, her wishy-washy response to the disaster was totally inadequate – I, for one, still can’t believe that Tadcaster does not yet have a new bridge over the river Wharfe to replace the structure washed away. I don’t believe that the Germans, Japanese or Chinese would have tolerated this.

Yet what happens? Ms Truss was promoted to the post of Justice Secretary when Theresa May replaced David Cameron.

Like you, I’m not impressed. Prison policy is lurching from one crisis to another, though she was not responsible, in fairness, for the staffing cuts which preceded her appointment, while it is Ms Truss – as Lord Chancellor – who is ostensibly in charge of legal matters pertaining to Brexit.

Given the Supreme Court is having to consider whether it is the prerogative of Parliament, or the Government, to trigger Article 50, it does not reflect well on the advice that Ms Truss gave to the Cabinet in the first place.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – why is this nonentity bullet-proof? It remains one of the unsolved political mysteries of 2016.

THE prevailing view is that Theresa May is keeping Parliament in the dark about Brexit. Nonsense.

She spent nearly 90 minutes on Monday answering questions from MPs about the latest EU summit, and the apparent snub by other European leaders who appeared to turn their backs on the Prime Minister, before a bruising inquisition by Commons select committee chairmen on Tuesday.

I wonder how many other premiers and presidents make themselves so accessible to elected representatives. Not many, I venture.

I THOUGHT Nigel Farage said he 
was going to spend more time with his family when he stepped down as Ukip leader.

Obviously not judging by his claim that Theresa May has banned Cabinet ministers from talkng to him about Donald Trump or Brexit.

I don’t blame her. Despite the bluster, all Nigel Farage is interested in is Nigel Farage. He certainly can’t claim to talk for the whole country, the first duty of Cabinet Ministers.

I KNOW he hates finishing second, but what an achievement by Leeds triathlete Alistair Brownlee to finish runner up at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year celebration.

Given it is still a rather niche sport, it shows the extent to which Brownlee, and his younger brother Jonny, have touched the wider sporting public’s consciousness with their success and good humour.

Both should be cherished and celebrated.

‘NEEDS must’ required a visit to Morrisons the other day where one of the main items on display in the bakery department was – wait for it – hot cross buns. And it’s not even Christmas.

IT would be remiss, on Christmas Eve, not to acknowledge all those public servants who will be working over the festive period, not least our wonderful NHS staff who continue to be taken for granted by politicians, pen-pushers and patients alike. Their dedication and commitment represents the best of the best. As such, one of my abiding wishes for 2017 is that the country is far more appreciative of all medical staff – including those health professionals from overseas who have made their home here. Without them, the National Health Service simply would not be able to function – irrespective of the Brexit remedy finally agreed.