A Labour councillor in Barnet has been summoned for non-payment of £1,416 Council Tax. A petition was started demanding to know who it is. However the councillor concerned, Cllr Kath McGuirk, has come forward to say it was her but that the summons was a mistake. The matter is more serious because Cllr McGuirk voted on the budget at a full council meeting on Maarch 4th. This would have been in breach of the Local Government Finance Act had she been in arrears.
Cllr McGuirk explanation is puzzling. Councils are generally reluctantto issues summonses. There would usually be various reminders first. They would be particularly reluctant to take legal action against one of their own councillors. For the amount to be so large – a full year’s Council Tax – makes it all the more odd if it was some oversight. For the whole thing to have been simply a muddle is surprising although not impossible.
A wider concern is the lack of transparency over this issue. The Hendon Times reported earlier:
A Freedom of Information request revealed the authority had to send out nine letters of reminder for outstanding bills to its members, two of whom were summonsed between January 1, 2013, and January 31, 2014.
One of those has since paid their outstanding bill of £450, but another council member still owes £1,416.
The Government has advised that it is in the public interest for councillors to be named if they are in arrears. This response to the Freedom of Information request has not done so.
Of course there is then the difficulty of cases such as Cllr McGuirk who denies being in arrears. But that seems an argument for more transparency rather than less. Let’s have a statement from Barnet Council giving their understanding of the matter. Let’s have some more detail from Cllr McGuirk about when the payments were made. Then the residents she represents in West Finchley Ward may be able to grasp what has been happening.