Saturday, 16 May 2020

Glasgow's Imelda Marcos (11/10/29)

The Herald columnist Neil Mackay is a big supporter of Scottish independence, but that has not stopped him calling a 'spade a spade' in this hard-hitting piece about the goings on at Glasgow City Council.

Good for him, I say, as this row is about good, accountable local government and should have nothing to do with party politics.

Because the 'Civic Heads' expenses scheme has never been an allowance for Provosts and other councillors to dip into at will, on their own terms.

Scottish councils were charged 10 years ago with drawing up proper arrangements for vetting and approving such claims and, like any other expenses regime, this should have been policed and controlled by council officials with the authority to say No.
Neil Mackay: Why Glasgow’s Imelda Marcos shames the city, the SNP and the Yes movement

By Neil Mackay - The Herald

Eva Bolander

AS a Yes voter my greatest fear is that after independence we discover that we’ve simply replaced one failed system with another. That we get rid of Westminster and find that Holyrood becomes just as bad.

Independence can’t be a palace revolution, which merely replaces one group of self-interested elites with another. Independence, if it is to mean anything, has to make the way we govern ourselves better, fairer, properly in touch with ordinary people and their needs.

But that all depends on who we elect or rather who political parties put forward for us to elect. The unfolding story of Glasgow’s Lord Provost, SNP councillor Eva Bolander, contains the germ of my fears.

Bolander spent more than £8000 on clothes and personal grooming at the taxpayer’s expense over two years. She claimed £1,150 for 23 pairs of shoes, and £152 for underwear. She claimed for six jackets, five coats, a £200 hat by a designer favoured by Kate Moss.

She claimed for makeup, haircuts valued at £751, nail treatments costing £479, hosiery, a watch, glasses worth £358, sunglasses, bags, and jewellery. She spent £500 in John Lewis in one day. The list is staggering. Bolander’s predecessor, Sadie Docherty, made no claims over a similar two-year period.

Understandably, opposition politicians have weaponised the expenses claims. Labour councillor Martin McElroy compared Bolander to Imelda Marcos. Tory MSP Annie Wells called on her to resign. Labour MSP James Kelly accused Bolander of going on a “grotesque spending spree at the taxpayers’ expense”.

Kelly said: “In just one trip to John Lewis she spent more on herself than what a worker being paid the national minimum wage earns in a whole week.” He added that she should reimburse the taxpayer.

The GMB union called Bolander “horrendously out of touch”. Union official Rhea Wolfson challenged her to “walk a mile in the shoes of GMB members”.

Yesterday, Bolander apologised and said she will repay some of the money. She hasn’t broken the law. She gets £39,310 a year, including an annual £5000 civic allowance. The money spent was part of that allowance. But the optics are those of greed and self-interest.

As soon as a politician gets their behind in a comfy chair they’ll feather their nest with public money – that’s the message from all of this. Amid austerity, did she think this would look good? Last year, Glasgow council accepted a gift of a Rolls Royce as the Lord Provost’s car.

The SNP promised a new style of administration in Glasgow. Bolander’s actions have shot those promises to pieces. The SNP looks grubby, and what Bolander has done will surely damage the party in future elections in the city. Her behaviour will certainly be remembered.

READ MORE: Glasgow's Lord Provost claims £8,000 on clothing and beauty treatments 

But forget the political ramifications. Who cares whether a politician with bad judgement and a lack of sensitivity loses their job after living the good life at our expense. What’s far more important is the damage done to the image of Glasgow.

We have homeless people on every city corner. Shelter Scotland, the homeless charity, is taking Glasgow City Council to court claiming the local authority has illegally denied temporary accommodation to homeless people thousands of times over the last two years. Glasgow City Council has taken out loan deals to help pay for its £548 million equal pay settlement. People are living out of foodbanks in this city. People are struggling to pay their rent. There are families who can’t afford clothes for their kids to go to school – their school clothing grant is £110.

Amid all this, Bolander’s spending is sickening.

The most bewildering turn of events, though, comes from those defending Bolander. Council leader Susan Aitken tweeted: “It’s part of the LP’s salary in Glasgow, it’s always been understood that there’s an additional cost of being civic leader. Underwear = not pants but long slips for under black tie dresses.”

It doesn’t matter whether she bought pants or slips - what matters is that what Bolander has done looks dreadful, and people who should know better are defending her. No-one would object if a Lord Provost bought themselves a decent dress or suit in order to represent the city at official functions, but the taxpayer isn’t here to gild anyone’s life.

Online the usual barrage of empty-headed SNP fundamentalists sprung to Bolander’s defence. It was sexist to even question what Bolander had spent our money on. It was another ‘SNP bad’ story. She’s played the mea culpa card so what’s the big deal? Some even said that as Bolander’s allowance is £5000 a year, we should all be grateful that she’d underspent by only charging us £8000 in a two year period.

These are the same people who leap to the defence of any SNP figure caught in the cross-hairs. They don’t care whether actions are right or wrong - if the SNP’s in trouble, they’ll defend it. These are the people who make me fearful for the future success of independence. They are zealots who want their party in power. The rest of us want independence to bring meaningful change, and make Scotland a better and fairer place. We won’t get that if we’re okay with the likes of Bolander treating the public with disdain.

Nicola Sturgeon must privately loathe such moments. She is one of the few politicians not just on the national stage, but on the world’s stage, who conducts herself with intelligence, dignity and integrity. Yet her party seems to be filled with people who would accept the unacceptable as long as it is in the interests of the SNP.

What Bolander has done shames and damages the SNP. Her actions crash up against years of progressive rhetoric and legislation. Bolander also shames and damages Glasgow. And Bolander shames and damages the journey towards independence. She raises the spectre that nothing will change after a Yes vote, if the calibre of our political class does not improve. She also exposes the dangerous group-think among a hardcore minority of SNP fundamentalists, who would put up with anything as long as their hold on power is not threatened.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year

Glasgow, 'Rules' and Councillors' Expenses (10/10/29)

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.