Tuesday, 3 July 2018

God Above, Glasgow! (3)

I meant to share this article from the Evening Times about three Glasgow councillors who owed £42,030 in council tax at the time of last year's (2017) local elections.

Now I had previously though that Labour's Cecilia O'Lone was the only councillor in this situation, but the Evening Times reports that two SNP councillors - Elaine McSporran and Elspeth Kerr - were also heavily in debt when they were chosen to stand for election.

So while thousands of low paid council workers in Glasgow are still fighting for equal pay after all these years, these three individuals are using their councillors salaries (@£17,000 a year) to pay off their historical council tax debts.

How they ever got selected to stand for election for Labour and the SNP is beyond me and it's noticeable that just last week Nicola Sturgeon sacked a cabinet minister (Gillian Martin) she had appointed only hours earlier - for embarrassing and stupid remarks on social media.


Foot In Mouth (30/06/18)

I laughed my head off at this report in The Herald about the former college lecturer Gillian Martin who was appointed as an SNP education minister, but was suddenly sacked by Nicola Sturgeon before the new incumbent even had time to get her feet under the desk.


Tom Gordon: Unforced error exposes Sturgeon to lethal line of attack

By Tom Gordon - The Herald

Tom Gordon: Unforced error exposes Sturgeon to lethal line of attack

IT was not the summer send-off Nicola Sturgeon had bargained on. Her wide-ranging reshuffle was supposed to round off the parliamentary year with a flourish.

It had been long planned. “Any government, after 10 years, needs to take stock and to refresh,” she told MSPs this week in 2017. But while the changes have indeed pepped up the government, with promotions for a new generation of talent from the 2016 intake, one bad - and wholly foreseeable - clanger left the overhaul overshadowed.

Instead of going back to their constituencies on a high note, MSPs left Holyrood with the name Gillian Martin ringing in their ears like the punchline to an off-colour joke.
READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon wields the axe and brings in new blood in Cabinet reshuffle

To be fair, reshuffles often go awry. Tony Blair made a right hash of his in 2003, announcing the end of the 1,400-year-old office of Lord Chancellor, only to find out it couldn’t be done without an act of parliament. He also played fast and loose with devolution, making Alistair Darling a part-time Scottish Secretary by combining the role with Transport, and putting Scots MP John Reid in charge of the NHSin England. It was a mess.

Theresa May also botched her set piece reshuffle in January, as a series of ministers refused to budge, making the Prime Minister look, somehow, even weaker than before.

So Ms Martin’s on/off gig as further and higher education minister is not the disaster the First Minister’s critics want it to be. “These things happen,” as her spokesman sighed philosophically.

But that does not mean Ms Sturgeon’s reshuffle blues are a transient phenomenon. After all, this was supposed to be a very big deal.

There are now five new faces around a cabinet table of 12, nine new ministers in a set of 14. This is the team Ms Sturgeon hopes will win her the 2021 Holyrood election.
READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon wields the axe and brings in new blood in Cabinet reshuffle

Indeed, it’s a sign of how sweeping the changes are that she has all but run out of promotion options. Of her 61MSPs, 36 are ministers, committee conveners, whips, or cabinet aides known as parliamentary liaison officers (PLOs). Two are off limits as deputy presiding officers, and nine are ex-ministers, who are less likely to serve. That leaves 14 MSPs - or 13 discounting Ms Martin - to fill seven vacant PLO posts and three committee chairs. The talent pool has become a puddle. There is no credible way back from this reshuffle. Yet the First Minister’s mistake was elementary.

Ms Martin’s undoing was a blog she wrote in 2007 as a college lecturer. It first gained attention when she stood for Holyrood in 2016 in Aberdeenshire. There were tabloid stories about her calling Alex Salmond a “smug git” and the Royal Family inbred “dysfunctionals”.

A joke that the EU had a “tranny trove” of cash for transgender issues was also criticised at the time. All this was in the public domain two years ago, and, we learned this week, Ms Sturgeon was fully aware of it.

Nevertheless, and despite that toxic “tranny” comment, she gave Ms Martin the job of widening access to further education. This proved to be downright reckless.

Given Ms Sturgeon’s familiarity with the press, she must have expected the blog to be exhumed, but she named Ms Martin a minister regardless. I assume she thought she could just ride out any fuss. But she failed to double-check what else was lurking on the internet.

Sure enough, the next day more material from the blog appeared in the media. It turned out Ms Martin had referred to “hairy knuckled lipstick-wearing transitional transgender Laydees”, opined on the tipping habits of “American Jews” and “American blacks” in diners, and joked about students in wheelchairs being PR gold.

Ms Sturgeon’s insouciance evaporated and she pulled Ms Martin from the list of ministers due to be confirmed by a vote of MSPs.

Even then, the First Minister kept digging. Despite it being obvious Holyrood would never approve Ms Martin’s appointment, she initially kept the door open. Rather than calling the whole thing off , she said she would “reflect further” on the “ill-advised” remarks, and insisted Ms Martin was actually a swell sort. She canned her three hours later.

The defensive attitude only added to the attacks on Ms Sturgeon’s judgment. She said she took these “on the chin”. But she never sounded like a genuine penitent.

The criticism about bad judgment is key. This is a lethal narrative if it takes hold. On judgment, leaders have nowhere to turn, no one to blame. It is all about them.
READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon wields the axe and brings in new blood in Cabinet reshuffle

It is also a narrative that can absorb almost any event. Whenever something goes wrong for the government this summer, watch the opposition parties try to make it about Ms Sturgeon’s judgment.

It’s more than sport for her enemies. For them, this summer is not about a reshuffle or a blog, it is about the build-up to Ms Sturgeon’s next giant decision in government: whether or not to press for a second independence referendum.

If she does, Unionists will claim it is her wildest misjudgment yet.

In itself, this week’s bourach clearly doesn’t scupper a new vote. But it does play into a drip-drip critique about the First Minister’s judgment being off kilter, with independence the prime example.

Her unforced error has advanced that line of attack. She must now be praying for a thoroughly dull recess.

Cecilia O’Lone: Glasgow Labour councillor ‘sorry’ after racking up £17,500 tax debt

By Eddie Harbinson - Evening Times

Cecilia O’Lone

A GLASGOW councillor who racked up more than £17,500 of council tax debts has apologised.

Cecilia O’Lone, the Labour member for Calton, said sorry after paying more than a third of her wage to arrears since her election last year.

She has repaid upwards of £5,500 since May 2017, but still has £12,440 of outstanding council tax debt dating back to 1999.

The SNP’s Elaine McSporran and Elspeth Kerr are also on repayment plans, with both having owed in-excess of £12,000 when they were elected.

Speaking yesterday, Ms O’Lone said: “I would like to apologise to everybody for any embarrassment that this has caused.

“It was a mixture of circumstances, including unemployment and bereavement, but that’s no excuse.

“I’m paying everything back.”

Both SNP members were contacted for comment but failed to respond directly.

Between Ms O’Lone, Ms McSporran and Ms Kerr, the total debt stood at £42,030 during last May’s election.

But the trio’s arrears have now dropped to £26,610.

Ms McSporran owes £6,272, having paid back £6,000. And Ms Kerr has handed over £4,340, leaving her debt at £7,896.

A spokesman for the SNP City Government, said: “Both Councillor McSporran and Councillor Kerr are in a payment programme which is acceptable to the council.”

But government transparency campaigners, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, slammed the figures.

Chief executive, John O’Connell, said: “Some councillors may be in financial difficulty, in which case they should have the help and support afforded to others.

“But the rest should be leading by example and anyone who has failed to pay what’s due ought to have the guts to own up. The high numbers really are eye-watering.”

Under local government legislation, elected members cannot vote on certain budget matters if they are two or more months in arrears.

Councillors in that position are required to declare their arrears when attending meetings where council tax is discussed.

The Standards Commission has set out a code of conduct for all Scottish councillors.

It says: “Whilst you are a member of the community, you are also a representative of that community and of the council to which you are elected.

“As there is potential for public perception of abuse of position and poor leadership, you must seek to avoid being in debt to the council.”

If members of the public miss payments, they are sent reminders asking for money to be paid within seven days.

Those who fail to do so lose their right to pay in installments and must instead pay the full year’s balance.

If not paid within 28 days of its due date, the local authority can apply to the sheriff court for a summary warrant.

Residents who can’t reach a payment agreement with the council can face enforcement action including deductions from wages or benefits, or having goods seized by bailiffs.

For councillors in arrears, their debt is dealt with directly by council officers who set up payment plans to recoup the money.

Those who fail to pay can also be subject to enforcement action.

A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: “Council tax supports a wide range of frontline services. It is important that everyone that can pay does pay.

“All members with arrears have a payment plan in place and the value of arrears has reduced significantly.”

God Above, Glasgow 2 (25/03/18)

Glasgow City Council's register of interests shows the following entry for Cllr Cecilia O'Lone who is a Labour councillor for my local Glasgow Calton ward:


1) The Gladiator Programme - 16 hours per week self employed
2) Elected member, Glasgow City Council - £16,927

Now Cecilia doesn't declare her earnings for working at the Gladiator Programme which is bound to publicly funded, but even a minimum wage job would take her earnings towards £25,000 a year.

Yet no one would know about Cecilia's huge council tax debt were it not for the excellent article written by Paul Hutcheon in last week's Sunday Herald.

As a reader said on the blog yesterday - if this was one of Glasgow's equal pay claimants, the City Council would be seeking an order to arrest the debtor's wages in double quick time.


God Above, Glasgow! (23/03/18)

Here's an incredible story from The Sunday Herald which reports that a local Labour councillor, Cecilia O'Lone, owes £12,000 in council tax debt which goes back almost 20 years.

Now I cannot understand how someone in that position has the cheek to stand for election to her local council and I imagine that Cecilia O'Lone would never have been elected if the voters knew she was in such debt when they went to the polls.

Nor can I understand how the Labour Party could select Cecilia O'Lone to stand for election as a local councillor because it makes Labour in Glasgow look completely ridiculous.     

Cecilia O'Lone is now being paid a salary (for a part-time commitment) of almost £17,000 a year which is more than most of Glasgow's equal pay claimants earn in their full-time jobs.

On top of that Cecilia works 16 hours in a children's health project which is almost certainly paid for out of public funds and just adds insult to injury.

I have been trying to contact Cecilia O'Lone for weeks to discuss the issue of equal pay, as she is one of the local councillors in my Calton ward, but she has been off sick for some time - so there is effectively no Labour councillor in this historic part of Glasgow.



Glasgow Labour councillor's £12,000 council tax debt stretches back nearly two decades

By Paul Hutcheon - The Herald

Cecilia O’Lone

Glasgow Labour councillor's £12,000 council tax debt goes back almost 20 years, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

Cecilia O’Lone’s arrears started in the first year of devolution, 1999, and include a surcharge following a council application for a summary warrant.

In Glasgow, it was reported that eight councillors owed almost £52,000 between them, but the largest debt was incurred by Calton councillor O’Lone, who was first elected last year.

In 2016, it was reported that Glasgow City Council was owed £138 million in unpaid council tax.

Individuals can, through reasons such as redundancy or bereavement, miss payments, but a local authority source said there was a “big difference” between arrears of two months and two decades.

A breakdown of O’Lone’s £12,020 council tax debt reveals arrears for 13 successive years. In 1999, the figure was £310, after which there were arrears of £748, £956, £1051, £261 and £800 in the five years after the original debt was incurred.

In 2005/06, another £1,144 was added to the total, after which the debt grew year-on-year by £1,149, £1,157, £1,167, £1,178 and £915.

According to the council, £1,122 of the £12,020 was a 10 per cent “statutory addition”. This penalty is added if the “chargepayer” fails to make payment and the sheriff court is petitioned for a summary warrant. It is understood O’Lone has a payment plan in place.

Under local government legislation, elected members cannot vote on certain budget matters if they are two or more months in arrears.

Councillors in this position who attend formal meetings about council tax have to declare their arrears, and a failure to do so is an offence.

A Scottish Labour spokesperson declined to say whether O’Lone informed the party about the debt when she applied to be a candidate.

Scottish Conservative Glasgow councillor Tony Curtis said: “Voters will be appalled at this state of affairs.”

Councillors have a key decision-making role on services such as education, social work and culture, as well as being able to vote on budgetary matters.

However, an investigation last year revealed that more than 30 councillors in Scotland were in arrears on their council tax, a key charge that funds services.

The collective debt stood at more than £140,000 and some councillors, like O'Lone, owed their local authorities several thousand pounds.

A Labour insider said the O'Lone revelations raised questions, particularly on the disclosure requirements expected of prospective council candidates.

In the "new candidate application pack", individuals had to sign a declaration which stated: "I will declare to the interviewing panel any matters in my political or personal record which, if revealed, could publicly embarrass the Labour Party or affect public confidence in my position as a representative."

O’Lone’s register of interest states that she works 16 hours a week at the Gladiator Programme [a children's health project] which is on top of her £16,927 council salary. She has benefited from £977 in travel that was “paid by council”.

A spokesman for the council said: "Council Tax supports a wide range of frontline services. It is important that everyone that can pay does pay."

O’Lone did not return the Sunday Herald’s call.