The Ineptitude Councillors Can’t Criticise

30 10 2012

Full disclosure again: a quick glance here will reveal a familar name getting pipped at the post in Govan back in May.  So I perhaps have a keener interest than many in what our esteemed city mithers and faithers get up to.  And how they achieved the platform to get up to it.

A wee story caught my eye today via the Twitter feed of Glasgow’s only Tory Councillor, David Meikle.  The latest copy of council crapsheet Glasgow magazine contains a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to one of the less high profile scandals of the 2011 election campaign.  You can see the column in its entirety here:

Courtesy of @cllrdmeikle

For those squinting on one of these new-fangled “phones”, it reads:

Glasgow magazine is a corporate publication of Glasgow City Council which includes articles on the policies and decisions of the council administration.

In an issue of the magazine last year, a story on the council budget included comments from the Council Leader which accused the Scottish Government of treating the city unfairly.

Although similar comments by the Council Leader had been printed or broadcast previously by the media, they should not have been presented in this manner in Glasgow magazine.

As a result, the council withdrew that issue from circulation.

It’s referring to this story, way back in the mists of time before the Scottish Parliament Elections in May 2011.  Glasgow City Council decided it would be a splendid wheeze to use their publicly-funded glossy magazine, delivered free to every house in the city and piled high at every library, leisure centre and council office going, to promote some of Gordon Matheson’s recent postulations on the Large Hadron Collider and its implications for quantum physics how snidey John Swinney and the SNP were for not giving him more money to spend on publicly-funded glossy magazines featuring interviews with Leader Matheson.  If you think something about that decision smells a bit, congratulations on having a nose.

It speaks volumes for the arrogance of some in the City Chambers that they either didn’t think about the implications of publishing public-funded partisan attacks, or didn’t care.  That decision cost the tax-payer £42,000 as the magazine was re-called, but not before many thousands had already been delivered.  A year and half a later, the above weasel words appear (note, for example, the missing phrase, “but not before many thousands had already been delivered” at the end of the statement).

Was Leader Matheson directly involved in arranging the publication of his own taxpayer-funded self-promotion?  Probably not.  The blame likely lies with the council officials responsible, namely those in the PR & Marketing Office.  Supposedly politically neutral public employees were happy to publish a partisan attack on the council administration’s political opponents less than 5 weeks before a national election.  That strikes me – at the very least – as demonstrating utter incompetence and contempt for public finances, and strays dangerously into the terrority of doing their masters’ political bidding at the expense of political neutrality.

You won’t hear anything like that last paragraph from any of Glasgow’s 79 elected councillors.  Not because they disagree – although doubtless the beneficiaries of such propagandising among the Labour Group would.  But because the Code of Conduct governing their behaviour specifically prohibits democratically-elected representatives from making such criticisms.  Annex C, Part 20 clearly states:

Councillors should not raise matters relating to the conduct or capability of employees in public.

I don’t know what the definitive opinion of opposition councillors is with regards the conduct of Glasgow City Council employees in the mis-use of £42,000 of public money.  And even if I did, I wouldn’t share it, because they’d be in a large amount of Standards Commission-related trouble if their views were publicised.  As an ordinary punter, I’m quite at liberty to be as critical (or, indeed, as gushing) as the laws of defamation allow.  But the 79 people – the only 79 people – within GCC with a democratic mandate from the electorate, can’t say a negative word about a group of people who decided to take election spending into their – by which I mean the taxpayers’ – hands.

We don’t know – quite rightly – what, if any disciplinary proceedings were brought against the officers who OKed a publicly-funded party political statement to be delivered to everyone in the city.  But if the decision had been taken by a democratically-elected councillor, they’d have faced a hearing in front of the Standards Commission for Scotland, and if found guilty, possible expulsion from office.  They’d be signing on the dole, reputation and career in tatters.  Instead it was the officers who erred, and that £42k just gets added to the tab, with no public accountability or investigation, save a pathetic ‘No-me-a Culpa’ in the same publication that got the OK 19 months ago.

That’s democracy for you.

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