Thursday, 31 October 2019

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween to all blog site readers - here's a topical little gem from BBC Scotland's comedy unit!

   

Glasgow Rules - What Rules?




On 11 October 2019 I asked Glasgow City Council (GCC) for a copy of the rules governing the expenses claims of the city's Lord Provost - see letter below.

On 30 October 2019 GCC answered my request.

On 31 October 2019 the Lord Provost decides to resign.

Now is this coincidence or are the two events connected?

More to follow - so watch this space.



   
11 October 2019
Annemarie O'Donnell
Chief Executive
Glasgow City Council


Dear Ms O'Donnell

FOISA Request
I refer to the recent letter published by Glasgow's Lord Provost, Eva Bolander, regarding the expenses claims of council civic heads, a key extract of which is highlighted below.

"In submitting claims, I have always tried to ask myself the question, 'would I require this if I were not Lord Provost?

"Each has been made in good faith and scrupulously accounted for, within the rules.

"Although the spending incurred was within the rules, on reflection, there are items which I should not have chosen to reclaim."

I would like to ask for a copy of Glasgow City Council rules referred to by the Lord Provost and for an explanation of the arrangements the City Council has put in place for approving expenses claims by the Lord Provost, or other councillors deputising for the Lord Provost. 

SLARC (the Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee) recommended all councils in Scotland (including Glasgow City Council of course) to draw up such expenses schemes back in 2008 which I well remember, as I was a serving member of SLARC at the time.

I would be pleased if the City Council would supply this information by return, but if you are unwilling to do so for any reason, please regard this letter as a formal request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. 

I look forward to hearing from you in due course and would be grateful if you could respond to me by e-mail at: markirvine@compuserve.com

If you require any further details or clarification, please let me know.

Kind regards



Mark Irvine 

Read the full story in the link below to the Daily Record.

  

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/lord-provost-who-blew-8000-20759858

Lord Provost Eva Bolander stands down after blowing £8000 of public money on clothes and beauty products

The taxpayer-funded spending spree by Glasgow's Eva Bolander sparked an angry backlash.

By Paul Hutcheon - Daily Record


Glasgow's scandal-hit Lord Provost is to quit after blowing more than £8,000 on clothes and beauty products.

Eva Bolander, whose claims included 23 pairs of shoes, decided to resign after a discussion with SNP colleagues today.

Glasgow, 'Rules' and Councillors' Expenses (10/10/19)



The newspapers and social media have had lots to say about the expenses claims of Glasgow's Lord Provost in recent days.

In my opinion, some of these comments have been 'over the top' while others have tried to 'defend the indefensible' by arguing that the criticism of Eva Bolander has been unfair, unreasonable or politically motivated. 

A  number of absurd excuses have emerged in an effort to explain away what has been happening with the civic head's expenses in Glasgow including the completely bogus argument that £5,000 spending limit is an 'allowance' which the Lord Provost was perfectly entitled to spend. 

Nothing could be further from the truth as is shown below by the SLARC (Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee) Review and Report from 2008 which states in terms:

"We believe that it is for Councils themselves to determine what is a legitimate use of these funds."

Now since this business blew up Glasgow's Lord Provost has decided to put her hands up and apologise over her extravagant spending spree at the taxpayers' expense while adding that all her claims were 'within the rules'.

But what exactly are these rules because all Scottish councils (including Glasgow) were charged with drawing up proper arrangements for approving the expenses of civic heads? 

The leader of Glasgow City Council Susan Aitken is on record as saying that, "It's part of the Lord Provost's salary in Glasgow", which sounds like the exact opposite of a robust and rigorous approval process to me, so I'm keen to understand the details of the 'rules' referred to in Eva Bolander's apology letter.

Part of the problem is, of course, that the SNP Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay, effectively disbanded SLARC back in 2013 and so there is now no independent scrutiny or oversight of what Scottish councils are doing, in this and other areas.    

SLARC 2008 Report

Civic Head expenses

5.26 Currently the Allowances and Expenses Regulations allow for re-imbursement for civic expenses, restricted to Civic Heads, up to the limits set for each Council, to enable them to carry out their civic duties. These are in addition to any expenditure incurred on travel, subsistence and meals. The maximum annual sum which may be claimed is dependent on the Banding of the Council. These are:

• £2,000 for Band A Councils;
• £3,000 for Band B Councils;
• £4,000 for Band C Councils; and 

• £5,000 for Band D Councils.

5.27 It is clear from discussion with a number of authorities that they have not used these funds because there is a lack of clarity as to the types of use which may be made of them. There is also concern that the sums are restricted to Civic Heads even though on occasions his/her depute or others would undertake civic duties on his/her behalf.

5.28 We believe that it is for Councils themselves to determine what is a legitimate use of these funds. For guidance such funds may be used, for example, for:

• any additional necessary purchase or hire of clothes to attend civic functions; or
• any visits where the Civic Head would like to return hospitality to his/her host by purchasing a meal for them. Such visits may, for example, be twinning arrangements or other international events attended by the Civic Head; or
• personal hospitality.

5.29 We feel it is too early to say whether or not these sums are reasonable, given the slow uptake by authorities, and as such we do not propose any change to the maximum annual sums available at this time.

5.30 However, we believe that the sums should not be restricted to the Provosts and Lord Provosts (Civic Head) but (within the limits specified within each Council band) should also be able to be claimed by his/her deputes or others who undertake civic duties on behalf of the Provost or Lord Provost. This arrangement should be managed by the Council.

  

Glasgow - Spending Public Money (10/10/19)



The Daily Record follows up Paul Hutcheon's scoop with the news that Glasgow's Lord Provost, Eva Bolander, has finally seen the light and apologised over her civic head spending spree at taxpayers' expense.

Disappointingly, the Lord Provost says that her claims were all made 'within the rules' which is, of course, exactly the same defence used by Members of Parliament caught up in the great Westminster MPs' expenses scandal back in 2009.   

Now I'll be interested to find out what these council rules are because if they exist (which I doubt), they are clearly not based on common sense and are not working too well - otherwise the Lord Provost would not have proceeded to buy 23 pairs of shoes, 5 coats, underwear,  designer hats, expensive spectacles and so on. 

I suspect this might require another FoI request to get to the bottom of what has been going on even though the City Council leaders keep saying that Glasgow is aspiring to become a 'world leader' for openness and transparency.   

  

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/glasgows-lord-provost-apologises-over-20546544

Glasgow's Lord Provost apologises over £8000 expenses and vows to pay back cash

Eva Bolander faced calls to quit after claiming £1150 for 23 pairs of shoes and £152 for underwear among other items.

By Nicholas Keyden - Daily Record

Glasgow's Lord Provost billed taxpayer for 23 pairs of shoes during £8000 spending spree (Image: Daily Record/PA)

Glasgow's Lord Provost has apologised after spending more than £8000 of public money on clothes and beauty products.

Eva Bolander has also pledged to pay back some of the cash after it was revealed by the Daily Record that she claimed £1150 for 23 pairs of shoes and £152 for underwear.

The SNP councillor, also claimed for six jackets, five coats, underwear and a £200 hat made by a designer used by supermodel Kate Moss.

She handed in receipts for make-up, £751 of haircuts, glasses worth £358 and pampering that included getting her toenails painted.

In a letter to councillors reported by the Evening Times, Bolander said: " In submitting claims, I have always tried to ask myself the question, ‘would I require this if I were not Lord Provost?’ Each has been made in good faith and scrupulously accounted for, within the rules.

Glasgow City Council Lord Provost Eva Bolander has come under fire for buying 23 pairs of shoes(Image: PA)

"Although the spending incurred was within the rules, on reflection there are items which I should not have chosen to reclaim.

"I am sorry about that and I am in discussion with financial services to come to an arrangement to repay the relevant expenditure."

It comes as she was urged to quit over the whopping spending spree.

Labour MSP James Kelly accused Bolander of going on a “grotesque spending spree at the taxpayers’ expense”.


And Tory MSP Annie Wells blasted: “She must now do the right thing and stand down – there’s simply no way she can continue after these reports. She also owes the people of Glasgow an almighty apology.”

However, council leader Susan Aitken defended Bolander and denied the underwear claims were for pants.

Glasgow - Spending Public Money (09/10/19)



Glasgow City Council is making the news headlines again with a great scoop by Paul Hutcheon in the Daily Record focusing on the extravagant expenses claims of the Lord Provost, Eva Bolander, whose council salary in 2018/19 was reported as £41,545.96.

Now the first thing to say is that 'civic heads' (including provosts) are entitled to claim legitimate expenses which help them to carry out their civic duties.

But it's also fair to say that Glasgow's SNP Lord Provost has gone too far in submitting claims for things that have surely nothing to do with her role as a civic head.

Why would she claim for designer spectacles at £358, for example, or 23 pairs of shoes, or five coats, especially as the Lord Provost is chauffeur driven everywhere - sometimes in the City Council's nearly new Rolls Royce, of course.

So while everyone has had a great laugh at the news of the Lord Provost claiming her knickers on council expenses, the serious side to this whole affair is that the Scottish Government abolished the independent body (SLARC) which used to monitor and oversee councillors salaries and expenses.

SLARC (Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee) no longer exists and was effectively disbanded by the SNP's  Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay, in 2013 so the following quote in the Daily Record article from a Glasgow City Council spokesperson is just plain wrong. 

“The national committee that oversees councillors’ pay recognises that the requirement to represent their city at hundreds of events means Lord Provosts often incur personal expenses."

I know this because I was a serving member of SLARC for several years and there is absolutely no way this kind of abuse and extravagance would be taking place in 2019, if the SLARC Committee was still in place with its advisory, monitoring and oversight role.


The real problem, if you ask me, is the lack of common sense and independent scrutiny because the SLARC scheme is and always has been an expenses scheme - it is not an 'allowance' which civic heads are entitled to spend.  

More to follow tomorrow.

  

Glasgow's Lord Provost billed taxpayer for 23 pairs of shoes during £8000 spending spree

Eva Bolander also claimed for six jackets, five coats, underwear and a £200 hat with critics branding the SNP councillor 'Imelda Marcos'.

Glasgow's Lord Provost billed taxpayer for 23 pairs of shoes during £8000 spending spree (Image: Daily Record/PA)
By Paul Hutcheon - The Daily Record

Glasgow's Lord Provost billed the taxpayer for 23 pairs of shoes as part of an £8000 spending spree on clothing and beauty products.

Eva Bolander, an SNP councillor, also claimed for six jackets, five coats, underwear and a £200 hat made by a designer used by supermodel Kate Moss.

She handed in receipts for make-up, £751 of haircuts, glasses worth £358 and pampering that included getting her toenails painted.


Martin McElroy, a Labour councillor in the city, last night hit out at the extravagant spending spree. He likened shoe-loving Bolander to Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines who had more than 1000 pairs of shoes.

He said: “These expenses claims are an absolute disgrace. We need an urgent review of the Lord Provost’s spending and maximum 
transparency. 

“At a time when services are being cut, Glaswegians will not understand why their Lord Provost believes it is appropriate to charge the taxpayer for kitting herself out with a new wardrobe.

“Claiming for more than 20 pairs of shoes is frankly incredible. Does she think she is Imelda Marcos?”


Glasgow City Council Lord Provost Eva Bolander has come under fire for buying 23 pairs of shoes(Image: PA)
The Lord Provost chairs council meetings, represents the local authority on ceremonial occasions and receives ambassadors to the city. A civic allowance helps her fulfil public duties.

Swedish-born Bolander – who represents a council ward that includes Anderston and Yorkhill – became the first EU national to be chosen as the city’s first citizen.

Her predecessor, Sadie Docherty, made no charge on the public purse between May 2015 and May 2017 but Bolander has claimed for more than 150 items.

Hundreds of local authority staff have been laid off in recent years and the council is facing court action after being accused of illegally denying temporary accommodation to homeless applicants.

Between May 2017 and August 2019, Bolander claimed £1150 for 23 pairs of shoes, £665 for five coats, up to £374 for six jackets and nearly £415 for eight pairs of trousers.

The taxpayer was also charged £389 for two sets of fabric – expensive Harris Tweed – and about £992 for 14 dresses and £435 for seven blazers. Four skirts cost the public purse about £143, a blouse came in at £55 and unidentifiable items cost £824.


How £8000 spending spree was made up

23 pairs of shoes - £1150

5 coats - £665

6 jackets – up to £374.50

8 trousers - up to £415

14 dresses - up to £992

7 blazers - £435

Underwear - £152

Make-up - £66

10 haircuts – £751

20 nail treatments – £479

Jacket fabric – £389

Hosiery – £145

4 skirts – £143

1 blouse – £55

5 shirts– £103

Misc – £824

Watch – £16.99

Spectacles – £358

2 hats – £240

Sunglasses – £29.99

3 bags – up to £147.17

Gloves- £11.98

Scarf - £17.50

Jewellery - £14.98

Suitcase – £65


Bolander also got her nails done 20 times in two years and treated herself to 10 taxpayer-funded haircuts to the tune of over £751. Make-up cost £66.75.

Other items included a pair of sunglasses at £29.99, a £16.99 watch, three bags worth about £147, gloves, a £65 suitcase and a scarf.

The most expensive items were £358 spectacles, followed by a £200 hat from milliner William Chambers. Celebrities who have worn the award-winning designer’s hats include Moss, Extras comedy star Ashley Jensen and singer Roisin Murphy.

Judy Murray also commissioned a Chambers hat to wear at her tennis star son Andy’s wedding.

Another big-ticket item was £200 for a “bespoke” coat, which had an “art panel” on the back.

She also claimed £308 for two pairs of shoes – navy suede and black leather – from Watford-based Sole Bliss on the same day. By contrast, the school clothing grant is £110 for a child from a low-income family.



Glasgow's Lord Provost Eva Bolander has claimed for more than 150 items (Image: DAILY RECORD)Bolander’s favourite shop for a retail splurge was John Lewis, where she spent more than £500 in one day on shoes, a blazer, trousers, a top and a dress. Her claims for hosiery added £145 to a bill that totalled £8224 over two years.

The council deducted £7.70 from one claim due to “budgetary restrictions”.

Some of the information in the receipts was withheld on the grounds that the individual concerned would not “expect their personal details to be released”.

The Lord Provost was embroiled in controversy last year after it emerged that a Rolls-Royce had been gifted to the council by an unnamed benefactor, later revealed as businessman Boyd Tunnock.

After receiving the gift on behalf of the council, Bolander said at the time: “I want Glasgow to show its best face to the world and this gift will help us do that. It’s a show-stopping car and a tremendous asset.”

On of the expenses receipts show the Lord Provost spent £189 on Harris Tweed (Image: Daily Record)The Glasgow SNP manifesto promised changes to the council, which was previously run by Labour. One section featured a quote from Bolander: “The SNP will bring transparency, openness and accessibility to Glasgow’s democratic life and the way the council carries out its business.”

A council spokesman said: “The national committee that oversees councillors’ pay recognises that the requirement to represent their city at hundreds of events means Lord Provosts often incur personal expenses.

“For that reason, the Scottish Government allocates a civic allowance to each council. For Glasgow City Council, this is subject to a yearly maximum of £5000.”

Halloween Special - The Dreaded 'Neep'


'Globalisation' gets a bad name, in some circles anyway, but one of its many unsung benefits is that the new-found ability to buy pumpkins in the global marketplace has freed the Scottish people from celebrating Halloween with the dreaded 'neep'.

Now a 'neep' is a turnip and for readers too young to remember the dreaded days of making a Halloween lantern out of a turnip, here's a hilarious YouTube video from Scot Scran which captures the insanity of these bygone days rather brilliantly.

If you ask me, this mollycoddled generation of younger Scots don't seem to realise - they've never had it so good!

 

Glasgow's Great Equal Pay Cover Up



One year ago today - an important blog post highlighting the fight taking place behind the scenes to uncover the truth about Glasgow's 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme.


  

Glasgow's Great Equal Pay Cover-Up (31/10/18)



In the days ahead I plan to share details of my FOI requests to Glasgow City Council over its 'unfit for purpose' WPBR pay scheme and the role played by senior officials who oversaw the scheme's introduction back in 2006/07.

Council bosses now claim that it's too troublesome and too costly to provide this information, i.e. more than £600, but if you ask me the workforce and the taxpayer are entitled to know what exactly went on and how Scotland's largest council got itself into this terrible mess.  

So this is a important campaign issue on which I hope to get cross party support from the SNP, Labour, Green and Conservative groups in Glasgow City Council. 

  

Glasgow's Great Equal Pay Cover-Up (30/10/18)



Here's a letter I sent to Susan Aitken recently regarding the role played by senior council officials when Glasgow's WPBR pay scheme was introduced back in 2006/07.

The council's chief executive, Annemarie O'Donnell, has claimed previously that senior officials acted in 'good faith' over the WPBR and that their aim was to eliminate gender-based pay discrimination by the introduction of this controversial pay scheme.

Now I find this hard to very believe because, as I've said on the blog site many times, a 'two-year-old' could tell you that the WPBR's 37 hour rule was designed to favour male jobs and to disadvantage Glasgow's predominantly female workforce.

For the very simple reason that the vast majority of women workers in Glasgow City Council are contracted to work less than 37 hours a week.

After a series of freedom of information (FOI) requests it turns out that the 'history' of the WPBR is contained in a set of three filing cabinets, yet senior officials refuse to release the details on the grounds that to do so would cost the Council more than £600. 

If you ask me, the real reason my FOI requests are being refused is that the contents of these filing cabinet cabinets will show that senior officials betrayed the interests of the Council's lowest paid workers. 

I would like an answer to a whole series of important questions including:

  • What were the Terms of Reference for the WPBR?
  • How was the WPBR commissioned and was the brief put out to commercial tender?
  • Why did the Council not use the Scottish Joint Council scheme recommended by COSLA and the Trade Unions?
  • What was the total cost of the WPBR?
  • Who 'signed off' on the key provisions of the WPBR? 

My FOI battle with the City Council is still taking place behind the scenes and I have already raised some of these issues with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC).

But I think the time has come to involve a wider audience in this fight - the Claimants, Glasgow City Councillors, Glasgow MSPs, Glasgow MPs, Press and Media and the wider public.

Because the way in which Scotland's largest council has dealt with Equal Pay is a huge public scandal which is going to cost Glasgow hundreds of millions of pounds.

So there is no way that the people directly responsible should be allowed to brush this terrible mess under the carpet.  

  

Dear Councillor Aitken


Glasgow's WPBR and the role of senior council officials

I refer to my letter dated 11 July 2018.

I have not had any response to my letter, from yourself or someone from your office, which is disappointing, I have to say.

The important issue at stake is whether senior council officials acted in 'good faith' over the WPBR which, as you know, was introduced in 2007 but subsequently judged by the Court of Session to be 'unfit for purpose' in August 2017, after a lengthy legal battle.

In turn, the role played by senior officials has implications for the settlement discussions with the Council which have not resulted in serious negotiations to end this long-running dispute, despite 9 months of talks and 21 separate meetings with the claimants' representatives (A4ES, GMB and Unison).

In the circumstances, I plan to share this letter on my blog site along with an explanation of why professional oversight (or lack of it) of the WPBR is such an important issue for Glasgow's equal pay claimants. 

While responsibility for the WPBR rests ultimately with the Council's elected politicians, and with previous Council administrations, I think it is entirely fair to question why such a blatantly discriminatory provision as the 37 hour 'rule', for example, was not challenged by senior officials who claim that their sole aim in introducing the WPBR was to eliminate gender based pay discrimination.

To my mind, the only way to resolve this question is by reviewing the WPBR advice given by senior officials at the time and how this advice was presented to the political leadership of the Council back in 2006/07. 

I am happy to delay any public comment for another week in case you would like to discuss the situation and, unless otherwise agreed, I would regard such a discussion as 'private and confidential'.

Kind regards



Mark     


-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Irvine <markirvine@compuserve.com>
To: susan.aitken <susan.aitken@glasgow.gov.uk>
Sent: Wed, Jul 11, 2018 11:39 am
Subject: Glasgow's WPBR and the role of senior council officials


11 July 2018


Dear Councillor Aitken
Glasgow's WPBR and the role of senior council officials


I have been trying for several months, via a series of FOI requests, to understand the role played by senior officials during the introduction of the Glasgow City Council's WPBR pay scheme.


While much of the work was undertaken by an external consultant, crucial aspects of the WPBR, for example the introduction of the scheme's controversial 37 hour 'rule', still had to be approved by the City Council on the advice of its senior officials.

The Council's chief executive has stated publicly that senior officials acted in 'good faith' at the time which I find had to accept because the 37 hour 'rule' was clearly designed to disadvantage the Council's largely female workforce.   

Instead of responding helpfully to my FOI requests the process in Glasgow has become something of a pantomime with senior officials arguing that the time and cost of providing me with this information falls foul of section 12 (1) of FOISA.

I enclose the latest response from the chief executive's department which claims that to index the contents of three filing cabinets (which contain the relevant WPBR data) would take 83 hours to complete - or 1.3 working days for each of the 9 filing cabinet drawers.

I have to say I find this kind if behaviour to be completely at odds with the City Council's official policy of becoming a world leader in respect of the openness and transparency of its decision-making.

I did not ask the Council to conduct a full-scale, archivist-led indexing exercise which ought to have been completed years ago, of course. Instead I asked the Council to describe the contents of the three filing cabinets for the purposes of responding to a perfectly simple FOI Request/Review Request.

So I have a proposal to make which is that as Council Leader you authorise me to have access to the 3 filing cabinets for the period of 1 (one) working day which would allow me sufficient time to assess the information held by the Council.

If I believe there is important WPBR information that should be brought into the public domain, I would submit an FOI request in the normal way which would allow the Council to consider any privacy or other issues arising from such a request.

Not only will this save the Council from doing the job itself, it will also save the Council a great deal of time and expense by avoiding a protracted FOI battle which I am confident of winning eventually, because this is clearly the sort of information that ought to be readily available to members of the public.

No matter how long it takes - the truth will out in the end, as they say.

I would also take this opportunity to point out that while the chief executive's department has repeatedly declined to answer my WPBR FOI requests on the grounds that providing this information would cost the Council more than £600 - the chief executive herself, Annemarie O'Donnell, recently decided to 'gift' £120,079 to the Council's outgoing director of finance, Lynn Brown, so that this fellow senior official could access her local government pension early.

The generosity shown towards a former senior official stands in stark contrast to the Council's treatment of its lowest paid staff over many years which is why I believe it is right and proper to shine a light on the actions of senior officials in relation to the WPBR.

I look forward to your reply and would be grateful if you could respond to me by email at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Kind regards



Mark Irvine