YP Comment: Which councillors did not pay council tax? Leeds Council and the right to know

THANKS to the advent of Freedom of Information laws, public sector bodies accept the need to be open, transparent and accountable to taxpayers over their probity.

Which Leeds councillors have not paid their council tax?

It’s why town halls don’t now quibble when asked to confirm the council tax status of elected councillors, the people who make spending decisions on behalf of voters.

When Bolton Council challenged the public’s ‘right to know’, a landmark tribunal set a legal precedent by ruling in favour of openness by saying there was a difference between late-paying residents, who would not normally be named and shamed, and councillors because “elected officials should have a greater expectation of scrutiny”.

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It was a decision which forced a reluctant Sheffield Council to belatedly comply, yet Leeds Council still refuses to disclose the identities of four councillors who fell behind with their council tax payments and were issued with a court summons before they belatedly paid up. Who are they and why have they been treated like this?

Though the identities of three other late-paying Leeds councillors are now known, while another attributed their case to a bereavement, the prevailing culture of secrecy on these outstanding cases impinges upon the hard-earned reputations of those members whose financial affairs are beyond reproach.

Not only does this preposterous intransigence bring the council’s reputation into question at the end of a difficult year dominated by fallout from the Trolleybus scandal, but Leeds is now the only authority in this region putting secrecy before the public interest. On whose orders?

To compound matters it has already amassed £1,200 in legal fees challenging The Yorkshire Post’s reasonable requests and has set aside another £3,500 for further battles – another misuse of taxpayers’ money when the Labour-led authority is making staff redundant and pleading poverty over the Government’s parsimonious spending settlement.

As such, Leeds Council chief executive Tom Riordan is duty-bound to order full disclosure before his authority risks even more opprobrium. Even though his officials maintain that 
the cases concerned only involve one monthly instalment being accidentally missed, a summons is only issued as a last resort after at least one reminder has been sent out. As this botched cover-up makes matters even worse than necessary, it is only right that the electorate should be the final arbiters.

Primary lessons: Under-achievement’s root causes

TO put this year’s primary school league tables in context, most pupils are meeting – or exceeding – the Government’s targets and they should be applauded for doing so.

That said, just over five per cent of the region’s schools – 81 in total – are not making the grade and there appears to be a preponderance of under-performing primaries in Calderdale and Doncaster.

It remains to be seen whether these specific performances were a blip – the application of performance criteria invariably throws up statistical oddities each year – or whether there are more deep-rooted problems, such as a difficult cohort of pupils with challenging learning needs or a shortage of top class teachers.

Though the teaching profession does not enjoy this scrutiny, and associated pressures, it is serving a useful purpose and exposing a fundamental weakness in the education system which has been 
long highlighted by The Yorkshire Post and long neglected by policy-makers.

It is this. If pupils don’t grasp the rudiments of literacy and numeracy at an early age, they will, invariably, struggle at secondary school – and then find it more difficult to obtain work at a time when skills have never been more important because of both Brexit and Britain’s digital revolution. The sooner this lesson is learned, the better.

Library’s turn-up for the books

IT was a turn-up for the book when a copy of The Siege of Troy and the Wanderings of Ulysses – by author Charles Henry Hanson – was returned to a Leeds library more than a century after being borrowed. An inheritance gift, the new owner’s honesty paid off after librarians waived the 22p-a-day charge normally applied to books not returned on time. An unusual example of how libraries have spanned the generations, will there even be a service in another 100 years time if a neglectful reader forgets to return the latest page-turner written by Barbara Taylor Bradford or Peter Robinson, two enduring authors from Yorkshire, or will digital technology have rendered books obsolete?

Let’s hope not.