Friday, November 24, 2006

"Corruption Rife" - Labour Councillor

Labour Party funded on the rates!

The former Labour Leader of Sunderland Council, Cllr. Bryn Sidaway, has dramatically resigned from the party after being forced to hand over 215 pounds, from his council tax payer funded allowance, directly to the party to help clear it's debts. According to The Daily Mail, Labour members quietly passed a resolution at their party conference in September calling on all councillors to hand over a percentage of their allowances direct from the council payroll to fill the financial black hole. The party is saddled with debts totalling 22million pounds as a result of the cash for peerages scandal, which has led to a drought in donations. The allowances, introduced by Labour in 1998, were originally intended to be used to help councillors carry out their duties for voters, rather than for party political purposes.But those who refuse to pay the levy have now been threatened with disciplinary action by Labour whips.

Cllr. Sidaway has now reported the matter to Northumbria Police, saying:

"It is a national disgrace. We are talking about millions of pounds a year going into the Labour Party war chest via the taxpayer - but without them even knowing. This is their money. They elect local councillors in the hope that it will improve their lives - not to fund Labour's bid to be re-elected.
I feel ashamed. I have been a Labour Party supporter for 48 years - ever since I was 15-years-old. Corruption is rife. It is shambolic and disgusting. The public is being deceived and betrayed by a Government hell bent on staying in power. We are being run by a dictatorship. Democracy has simply been swept away."

This report in the Sunderland Echo on 11th. November makes it clear that there was nothing voluntary about using council allowances to bolster Labour's funds, I'm sure that nobody would reasonably object to councillors donating monies to whoever they wished out of their own pockets, but this looks like a clear case of diverting public cash directly to the party coffers.

Curly wonders if such a scheme is being operated within the ranks of the Labour Party on South Tyneside District Council and calls upon it's Labour Leader, Cllr. Paul Waggott, to make a statement to clear the air. Of course, it would be so easy to argue that having received (legitimately) their council allowances, members should be able to decide how, where, and when to spend them, but if the money is deducted at source through a council payroll scheme then that is an entirely different matter. I think we deserve to know if we are paying to clear Labour's debts - don't you?


The Daily Mail


This from BBC News at 14:41

Labour has been accused of using councillors' publicly-funded allowances to help pay off party debts.

The Tories are calling for an inquiry by watchdog the district auditor after Labour changed its rules about levies from its local councillors.

Labour said the cash was used to support its local group activities.

But the Tories say a leaked memo shows funds are being sent to Labour Party headquarters rather than to fund local party activities.

Sleaze watchdog the Standards Board for England said it had received a complaint from an ex-Labour councillor.

Northumbria Police have also confirmed they have received a complaint from a former leader of Sunderland Council, Bryn Sidaway, who quit in protest at the levy.
The Tories, who say they do not force their councillors to fund party activities, charge a 25 pounds a year fixed fee for professional support from the Conservative Councillors Association.

They estimate the new Labour levy could raise at least 1.9 million pounds for the Labour Party across its 6,200 councillors. The Labour Party has debts of 14.9 million pounds according to its 2005 accounts.

"It is scandalous that the Labour Party is systematically abusing councillor allowances and attempting to avoid bankruptcy by using council taxpayers' money to bail the party out," said shadow minister for local government Eric Pickles.

"At a time when council tax has gone through the roof, families and pensioners will be shocked to learn that their bills are not being used to clean the streets or empty bins - but instead, to give covert cash payments to the Labour Party direct from the council payroll."

Update 2

The Leader of South Tyneside Council, Paul Waggott has been in touch with the Corner Shop to confirm that Labour councillors in this borough are not participating in this scheme in any fashion at all. He's probably as annoyed as everyone else at the news of this scandal.

Councillor's allowances are paid as a wage, subject to income tax and NI. What people do with their wages after tax is their business, including if they chose to give it to a political party.
I thought I was quite clear in making the point that deductions at source do not give councillors any notion of choice, and is a direct charge upon the council tax payer. I reiterate, if a member chooses to spend his/her allowance on a contribution to a political party, locally, that's fine by me. However, if they are forced to do so by a deduction made at source via the payroll,on behalf of a party's national HQ, this is not fine or acceptable at all. This is not what the councillors' allowances were introduced for, there was never any intention at all to help the finances of any political parties!!
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