Friday 12 February 2010
Barnet Council Expenses Cover Up
Possibly the worst aspect of the MPs expenses scandal was that for several years so called “Honourable” Members tried to keep the full details of their grubby claims secret from those of us who have to pay the bill. But in the end, the truth prevailed.
Barnet Council is fighting a similar rearguard action to prevent taxpayers from knowing how much its 63 councillors claim in expenses. Despite former leader Victor Lyon stating publicly that the Conservatives would run an “open and honest administration”, there is still an obsessive culture of secrecy which permeates through every fibre of the council’s being.
Don’t Call Me Dave submitted a Freedom of Information request to Barnet Council on 19th May 2009 asking for the details of payments made to councillors. By law, such requests should be answered within 20 working days, yet nearly 9 months later DCMD continues to be fobbed off with various excuses:
1st June, 2009: “I have been allocated this request to deal with and am co-ordinating a reply. This will involve a certain amount of research into the records going back to 2006 but I expect to be able to respond to you by 15 June.”
8th July 2009: “On the allowances I need to get to grips with the system that records these, and will get back to you shortly - apologies for the delay.”
5th October 2009: “Apologies and thank you for your patience. My accountancy colleagues tell me they are working urgently to produce the information. There have been some software problems lately but the information should be available in the next few days.”
4th November 2009: “My renewed apologies for the delay. I am pleased to say that I do now have the information. On the other hand I am now required to run it past the members concerned for them to check and challenge if appropriate, and I am obliged to give them some days to respond. With great regret therefore I am estimating another week before I can forward this to you.”
11th November 2009: “To update you on the "notional allowance" expenses, I have sent the details to all members and have now received some dozen queries which I am ploughing through as quickly as I can.”
8th December 2009: “The position on the allowances saga is that I have received answers to the numerous queries received and am relaying these to the members concerned - I'm sorry for the continuing delay.”
8th January 2010: “I am devoting some time next week to bringing this saga to an end.”
11th February 2010: “I have revised details which I am now discussing with my superiors and I hope I can release something to you soon, but other than that I must reiterate previous apologies for the way this has dragged on.”
It is totally unacceptable to permit councillors to “challenge” details of the expenses already paid to them before releasing the information to the public. The payments are a matter of fact and council clearly knows how much each councillor has received. Perhaps, like MPs, some councillors have made claims to which they are not entitled?
It is also unacceptable that the council continues to withhold this information at the behest of unelected senior officers, oblivious to the requirements of the law.
The continuing refusal to publish full details of councillors’ expenses begs one simple question. What have they got to hide?