Sunday, 1 April 2012
Scottish Labour stands accused of hypocrisy in a long running dispute over equal pay in South Lanarkshire Council.
The Labour-run council - which has been propped up by Tory support since 2007 - has lost a major legal ruling in the Court of Session after refusing to accept an independent adjudication by the Scottish Information Commissioner.
The information originally requested relates to the pay and treatment of traditional male jobs in South Lanarkshire Council - compared to female jobs.
Similar information is freely available in every other council in Scotland, but not in Labour-run South Lanarkshire.
In a detailed written judgment Lords Marnoch, Mackay and Brailsford said:
"We say that because, having regard to the Commissioner's findings looked at as a whole, we are satisfied that even applying the stricter test the Commissioner could only have concluded that necessity (of publishing the information) was made out. In particular, he held that the Requester's own interest coincided with a widespread public interest in the matter of gender equality and that it was important to achieve transparency on the subject of Equal Pay. No better means existed to achieve that goal than be releasing the information in question."
Now what's interesting about this case is that the Labour party has had lots to say about the need for Freedom of Information - but only when the obligation to comply or publish rests on someone else.
For example, the Scottish Government in Edinburgh - or the Coalition Government in Westminster.
In fact Labour seems really keen on transparency and openness everywhere in government - except in local government - which of course is one of the few remaining areas where Labour still has influence.
The former Scottish Labour leader - Iain Gray - made a huge fuss during the 2011 election campaign over the SNP Government's failure to comply immediately with a disclosure order from the Scottish Information Commissioner.
I wrote to Iain Gray and the time and here is what I said:
Iain Gray MSP
Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
Dear Mr Gray
Freedom of Information
I followed the recent Scottish election campaign with great interest and noted your positive comments and strong support on the subject of Freedom of Information.
I wonder if you would like to intervene in a situation much closer to home - one that involves Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council.
For years the council has been refusing to publish proper details about the pay levels enjoyed by traditional male council jobs - information which every other council in Scotland released a long time ago, without any fuss or bother.
The Scottish Information Commissioner issued a decision in April 2011 which required South Lanarkshire Council to release this information at long last, but since then the council has lodged an appeal with the Court of Session - using taxpayers’ money of course.
The circumstances are similar to the one during the Scottish election campaign where - as Labour's Scottish leader - you called on the government to stop wasting time and comply with the Scottish Information Commissioner's decision.
I wonder of you would now do the same in relation to South Lanarkshire Council - as I'm sure your views will be listened to very carefully by the council's Labour leadership.
I look forward to your reply.
I never received a proper answer to my enquiry about to the behaviour South Lanarkshire Council - the Labour leader just fobbed me off and refused to answer my questions.
To my mind the whole affair is a complete abuse of the FOI process and is similar - in many ways - to the way the last Westminster government behaved over MPs' expenses.
The Labour Government of the day - led by Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman - tried everything possible to keep the details of MPs expenses secret and under wraps.
And that's exactly what they're trying to do now in South Lanarkshire Council and they're using taxpayers' money by the barrowload in this desperate, last-ditch effort to cover their tracks.
Now I find it truly amazing that the Labour party has such a selective approach to the importance of Freedom of Information generally - and the behaviour of South Lanarkshire Council in particular.
So I think I'll write be writing to the new leader of the Scottish Labour party - Johann Lamont.
To my mind the voters in South Lanarkshire are entitled to know where Scottish Labour stands on this issue – in the run up to the local council elections on May 3rd 2012.