Tuesday, 15 April 2014
A Tale of Two Councillors: Part One: the Labour councillor falsely accused of 'tax dodging'
Falsely accused: Labour councillor Kath Mc Guirk
If you live in Broken Barnet, and have been reading the local press over the last week or so, you will have been wondering about the story of what, in one paper at least, was described as a 'tax dodging' Labour councillor.
The councillor in question has in fact not dodged any taxes, and in Mrs Angry's view has been the subject of a profound injustice.
Due to the internal party investigation which was set in motion in response to the council's action, the individual was not able to defend herself from the accusations made - until now, when at last the local Labour party has issued this statement:
Labour calls for public apology after councillor wrongly accused of council tax arrears
Labour asks Conservative council leader for assurances that he was not involved in decision to refer case to police
Barnet's Labour councillors today called for a public apology after a councillor was wrongly accused of arrears of Council Tax although her payments were in order.
Labour is also calling for a statement from Conservative council leader Richard Cornelius to confirm that he had no part in the decision to refer West Finchley Labour councillor Kath McGuirk to the police on an allegation that she voted in a Budget meeting while in council tax arrears.
At a meeting with Cllr McGuirk on 3 April, council officers accepted that her council tax payments were in order, and remained paid up to date at all times. Yet on 4 April the council referred Cllr McGuirk to the police for an alleged breach of the law that prevents councillors voting if they are in arrears of council tax by two months or more.
Labour group leader Cllr Alison Moore said today:
“Kath McGuirk was accused of council tax arrears it's now clear she didn’t owe. The matter was then referred to the police, despite the fact that Cllr McGuirk had received a letter from the council confirming that she owed no monies.
“I think there are serious questions to be asked about what went wrong in this case, how council tax and benefits processes are being handled by Capita on behalf of the council and whether commercial companies are the right people to be dealing with such sensitive services on behalf of residents. “Given that the monies weren't owed, the council or Capita should be thinking about a public apology.”
West Finchley Labour councillor Kath McGuirk said today: "I regret that it wasn’t possible to make the facts of this situation public earlier and I am glad to now be able to explain to people in West Finchley what has been going on.
"Barnet Council mistakenly issued me with demands for council tax arrears and then with a court summons, which I challenged because my payments were in order. "I would like to emphasise that the summons was not acted on because it was issued in error, and my council tax payments were not in arrears. It is not true, as has been suggested by some, that the summons was withdrawn because an amount owing was paid when the summons arrived. This is a completely false rumour.
"By mistakenly issuing the court summons, the council has set off a chain of events and rumours that should have been dealt with much earlier.
“This culminated in the council asking the police to investigate whether I had broken the law by voting on behalf of the people of West Finchley in a council meeting. The council did this in the full knowledge that I was not in arrears of council tax, that my dispute over alleged arrears was upheld and that Capita had written to me apologising.
"Because of the statements issued by the Leader of the Council about this matter, and because of the call from Conservative councillor Tom Davey for Alison Moore to resign because she refused to make my name public while these false allegations were properly investigated, I will be seeking assurances from the council that there was no involvement of Conservative councillors in the decision to refer the matter to the police.
"The whole affair raises the question that if Barnet Council can commit errors and mistakes like this against their own councillors, how many other summons and arrears notices are being issued wrongfully in our borough, against people who can hardly be expected to have the knowledge of council procedure necessary to see that the arrears notices are plain wrong? We know that across the country thousands of mistakes have been made in the way council tax benefits have been cut, most notoriously with the bedroom tax. It is a bad, heartless and incompetent Conservative policy that is then itself being implemented badly, heartlessly and incompetently by Conservative councillors.
"This is another example of the inefficiency, time-wasting and incompetence that has been brought to Barnet by the disastrous rush to privatisation started by Mike Freer and now continued by his glove puppet Richard Cornelius."
It is now absolutely clear that Kath Mc Guirk, an intelligent, passionate and articulate Labour councillor of many years' loyal service, has been deliberately pursued by the council with ruthless zeal over an issue which is and was demonstrably based on a false premise.
The damage done to her reputation, and the Labour party, and the timing of the action taken, raises serious questions as to whether or not the decision to refer the matter to the police was in any way influenced by political considerations, or pressure from individuals. As if that could happen here, in Broken Barnet, Mrs Angry ...
Well, yes, it could and it may well have.
And clearly there is a wider issue here too in relation to the involvement of Capita, which is now responsible for the collection of council tax: how many other residents have been sent bills or summons for money they do not owe?
There must be a full investigation into the circumstances in which this matter arose, not just for the councillor involved, but on behalf of all Barnet tax payers now beginning to face the real consequences of the Tory privatisation of our council services.
More later ...