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How York and Edinburgh councils are failing their residents

Picture_5_2 Mark Wallace of the TaxPayers' Alliance highlights how two councils are showing a shocking degree of apathy to taxpayers' money.

With the average council tax bill running at well over £1,000, it goes without saying that councils have a responsibility to taxpayers to make sure spending is sensible and professional standards are met. Or you would have thought it goes without saying.

It often amazes me quite how basic some of the mistakes, errors and failures that occur in local government are. Whilst one expects to hear about councils that have big-spending, nanny state ideals that one might disagree with, or even to come across instances of people who simply aren’t very good at the job they have been given, the regularity with which councillors and council officers fail to fulfil even basic ethical standards is remarkable.

Take, for instance, York City Council. Whilst not an appalling council on every measure, York’s residents still bear a large financial burden and every penny counts. Like every area, crime is a problem and public concern to see it brought under control is high. Given that, it is amazing to discover that the council don’t log all thefts of council property that occur.

It is important for any organisation to do regular stock checks, both for good logistical planning and to make sure there is not a culture of theft or loss of goods. As the Leader of the Opposition rightly said:

“If it were a private business, every theft would be a loss of profit. We should see every theft as a loss of tax-payers’ money, which ultimately means tax-payers have to repay it with a council tax rise.”

Unfortunately, the ruling group seem to be unacceptably blasé about taxpayers’ property being stolen. Cllr Richard Moore, Executive Member for Corporate Services, is reported as saying:

“One has to look at what is expedient – do we report it when we lose an item worth a couple of quid? As far as I am aware, we are not aware of having lost anything of value, other than the laptops and sat-navs, and it is of course a matter of officer time and cost, and whether that is equivalent to the value of what we lose.”

First, it is clearly expedient to have a simple stock-taking and theft records system, because even if each theft is just “a couple of quid” it is both illegal and liable to become a costly habit if tolerated. Second, the fact that he is “not aware of having lost anything” is hardly reassuring, given that no record appears to be kept.

People have a right to expect a higher standard of professionalism from their council. We are forced to trust them with our money, and they must repay that with good management.
Unfortunately, another example of a council who have failed to live up to the public’s simplest expectations has arisen this week. Where York appear to be simply falling short, which is bad enough, it turns out that some members of Edinburgh City Council are just plain dishonest.

In response to (justified) criticism that councillors were being given free lunches at taxpayers’ expense, Edinburgh introduced an “honesty box” system. Discount prices were established for the councillors, and they were expected to put the money in the box without supervision. A simple task, one would hope, for people entrusted with more than £800 million of taxpayers’ money every year.

Sadly, one would hope wrong. Outrageously, over the course of 6 months there was a £900 shortfall in the honesty box, meaning half of the food consumed by councillors was simply stolen. There is no way that people in Edinburgh can have any confidence that their money is properly looked after and spent responsibly if even their elected representatives, sitting at the top of the tree are willing to steal from their constituents without a twinge of guilt.

The way in which each council has failed the public differ, but at core both councils display a shocking degree of apathy towards taxpayers and their hard-earned money. York City Council send the message to their staff that theft is okay and ignored if it’s “just a couple of quid” each time, whilst Edinburgh’s councillors are stealing from taxpayers themselves. In both cases, people deserve and demand far, far better.


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