Last year, we were throwing up our hands in horror at the alleged misdemeanors of Edinburgh City Council. BBC Scotland found evidence of things seriously amiss in building work overseen by the council. It seemed that work done under the statutory notice system – a system that allows the council to commission builders to repair private homes, needed a review. The BBC said there were claims of bribes offered by contractors, poor quality work, work that is not necessary and over charging. Edinburgh City Council didn’t comment because a police enquiry was underway.
What is so extraordinary about all this, is that over the past year 15 council officials had already been suspended. The council called this a ‘precautionary move’ and called in the auditors to investigate. So they knew that all was not as it should be, but they appear to have prevaricated until the nasty stuff hit the fan. Why? Is there a culture of cover up in our public organisations?
In that debacle, it looked as if residents had been over-charged for unnecessary repairs that were of poor quality, leaving the buildings in a worse state than before works began. It also appeared that the council were using companies that were not on their list of framework contractors. One company was allocated work worth almost £2m over two years. This particular firm went into administration and has kept its lips tightly sealed.
The allocation of work to certain contractors who may have been ‘lining their own pockets’ has caused some council officials ask some serious questions, thank goodness. I have always wondered if certain councils are in the pocket of some developers. There has always been a interesting relationships between some contractors and some council officials. The boundaries may have been blurred? We all know that if you are a councillor and a contractor offers to pay for your holiday, something is not right; particularly if that contractor is then given the contract. But like the scandal about MP‘s expenses in England, these things seem to go on under everyone’s noses for months, years perhaps and are ignored until some brave soul blows the whistle. Why is this?
We are a tolerant people. I believe we want to see the best in our neighbours and in our leaders, but I also know that we are becoming increasingly cynical about the disingenuous way some of our leaders speak about such matters; the way they tend to keep their eyes closed and their heads in the sand. Is it some sort of misguided loyalty? This attitude seems to be cascading down to communities. It’s going on but I can’t see it? It’s happening but not on my patch? It’s someone else’s problem?
Basildon Council spent £18m – yes that’s eighteen million pound; the price of a small island – to evict a group of families living in caravans at Dale Farm in Essex. Planning laws must not be flouted; they are there to protect us all, but to spend this amount of money on evicting a small group of people from their homes, makes Basildon Council look less than efficient to the rest of the world. The ethnic origin of these families has been sited as a possible reason for the evictions; that these people are discriminated against because of their culture. True, there are some nasty, bigoted people out there and some of them may work for the council or live near Dale farm, but the real scandal is that this council could not come up with any other way to deal with this issue that cost less that £18 million.
Edinburgh council and others are calling for a review on what has been happening on their patch. Maybe it is time that there is a general review on how council membersconduct themselves and their business on our behalf? You can read descriptions of fraud, mismanagement and general bad practice on the Internet, concerning any number of local and district councils in the UK. This is worrying. Councils hold a great deal of power and with that comes responsibility to us, the community charge payers and voters. Councils really must get their act together. We rely on them.