|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 1175million after many years of Conservative control. It manages, with just 500 employees, to provide an excellent service to its residents. It has also had a report just published by the audit service that is one of the best that I have ever seen.
The housing department in Dover--a particular interest of mine and one that I shall return to later--earned the following accolade from the auditor :
"My review of the council's housing strategy was based on a national study by the Audit Commission which identified a number of good practices against which authorities could be compared. We found that the council in Dover is performing well in many respects and has adopted a variety of methods for addressing housing needs." The report went on to say :
"The process for allocating council houses via the waiting list works well."
The housing department received a well-earned credit from the audit service. Judging from the correspondence that I have about housing matters in Dover, it does very well indeed.
The community charge benefit system and the housing benefit system operated by the finance department in Dover also earned plus points in the audit report, which said :
"Our review showed that the council had already introduced many of the elements of good practice identified by the Audit Commission." The report went on to say that
"the council's workload has increased by some 9 per cent. in the three years to 1992-93, while at the same time the number of staff employed in the benefits section has decreased. As a result, the workload per person is above the Kent average and the cost of the council's service compares favourably with other Kent authorities." By definition, it must compare favourably with that of other authorities in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Dover's senior officers have been on performance-related pay, something that the Government have encouraged, for some six years. The staff of Dover district council have been on performance-related pay for some three years. They are performing and delivering a better service for my constituents. Dover district council is a well-run Conservative council.
Another council that earns the accolade of being a well-run Conservative council is Redbridge. I was impressed by the speed with which Redbridge council noted that I had a debate today on local government and immediately sent me a fax with some statistics about how efficient it is. There is no doubt that Redbridge council must come high on the list of successful Conservative councils. I was impressed with the facts and the details that it sent me. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister, who has kindly come along to reply to the debate, will be delighted by what he, I hope, saw in the Evening Standard last night--or should I say tonight ? Brent council, formerly under Labour control, has announced its council tax for the next year. It has announced that for the fourth year in a row it will reduce its council tax. That is what Conservative councils mean--four years of reducing the council tax below the level set by Labour. That is a major achievement and a great improvement. We compare that news with the sad news yesterday from Islington council. It is £878 million in debt and the child care division of its social services department has collapsed. In the newspaper tonight we discovered that there had been 14 years of failure and neglect in the child care division of the social services department. We also discovered that the council attempted to hide the report that
Column 1176would have disclosed the problem. The council is £878 million in debt and it still cannot finance, structure and make work a proper social services department.
Lewisham council is of particular interest in Dover at present because the leader of the council was brought down to Dover by the Labour group to teach Dover Labour party how to run a council. Lewisham council is not a good example, and we in Dover certainly do not want to have what goes on in Lewisham down in Dover. I understand that Lewisham council attempted to ban Christmas. It did not consult the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury. It just decided that a Christmas party was the wrong sort of party because it identified with religion, so it changed the name to a winter party. Lewisham council has also failed to collect £25 million in rent, rate and council tax arrears. That is an appalling state of affairs. We in Dover certainly do not want Lewisham to teach us anything. In Tameside the position is even worse. The council has set up a company to look after the elderly. The company did not so much look after the elderly as look after Labour party supporters. A number of shares in that company are apparently owned by the local Labour party through the nominee of its chairman. That is an appalling state of affairs and a scandal in which much money has been lost. The BBC has carried out an in-depth investigation and discovered much wrongdoing. Local newspapers have written articles of many column inches identifying corruption, fraud and wasteful expenditure.
Another council also identifies badly from Labour's point of view. It is Monklands council, where the Leader of the Opposition has his base. It has a debt of more than £130 million. It has more than 1,400 employees. It is one of the most inefficient, nepotistic and corrupt councils in the country. It has the sixth highest council tax in Scotland. The audit report by its auditor is completely the opposite to the one I have just read out about Dover. The Monklands audit report, just released, announces that the council is operating at the limits of its financial capacity. The evidence of wrongdoing in Monklands does not come from Conservative politicians-- apart from the fact that I have got hold of many papers and have started to bring Monklands council into the public arena.
Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) : As someone who was born in Monklands and has a record in local government, I understand the audit reports very well. Would the hon. Gentleman like to alter his statement in the light of the fact that the auditor said that Monklands council had not been at all compromised in its report ? No qualification was entered by the auditor in this year's, or any other year's, audit report.
Mr. Shaw : The hon. Gentleman's comments on the audit report that has been issued may change as he listens to what I have to say. He may change his view when he hears about the police who are currently investigating something that happened only a week after the audit report was concluded. He may change his view when he hears about some of the fraud and fiddles that I shall identify in the remainder of my speech.
I want to give some of the evidence and quote Catherine Miller, the branch secretary of the Holehills and Raywards branch of the Labour party. In 1992 she said :
"This branch . . . unreservedly condemns the nature of Cllr Brooks's highly personalised and derogatory statements, believing these are grossly insulting to the four councillors and deliberately designed to divert attention away from the main
Column 1177issues that have been raised."
The four councillors to whom she referred are four Labour councillors who have attempted to identify and expose the corruption and wrongdoing. Councillor Brooks is the Labour leader of the council that the Leader of the Opposition has supported for a position on a local health board at a salary of £5,000 a year. Fortunately, the Government had the good sense not to appoint Councillor Brooks. An anonymous spokesman for the Plains and Caldercruix branch of the Labour party wrote to the local newspaper, saying :
"In addition to other branches within the local Labour Party, Plains and Caldercruix also calls for a full, detailed investigation by the National Executive into the way in which the inner circle' of the Labour Group run the affairs of this local authority." Such entrenchment of power in so few hands is bad for local democracy. It also called upon the national executive of the Labour party to investigate fully the present dictatorial set up of council committees and subcommittees. A democratisation process is called for so that the council fully represents the entire electorate. There are real worries in the local Labour party in Monklands about the democracy, or lack of it, that exists there.
Mr. P. Drummond, the branch secretary of Gartlea branch of the Labour party, wrote that
a Labour rebel councillor
"as far as we are concerned can hold his head up. He has no relatives employed by the council, has never sought to get friends into such posts, does not use crude language in public pronouncements, is a relatively low claimant of expenses and an infrequent attender at available buffets and junkets."
It seems that that is a model by which some people in the Labour party locally measure the other people in the Labour party, and many people in the Labour party do not fit that model.
James Turner, branch secretary of the Rochsoles and Glenmavis branch in Airdrie, wrote :
"If left as it is, this situation will only deteriorate. The subject of Democracy a la Monklands' is surely questionable at best ; divisions in the Labour Party here grow even wider."
Labour councillors are also concerned. Councillor Murphy, a regional councillor for Coatbridge, North and Glenboig, and a shop steward in the National Union of Public Employees, stated : "I have got good proof about jobs not being advertised . . . employees who are members of the Labour Party have been given temporary promotion and the jobs get lost in the system.'" Councillor Morgan, a Labour councillor, said :
"I know of cases where candidates have been selected for jobs without even the bare minimum qualifications required."
That was reported in The Herald of Glasgow on 21 May 1993. The Labour party was so worried that it was forced to hold an inquiry into the way in which the council was operated. Unfortunately, that inquiry has ended up as a cover-up. The Leader of the Opposition has never answered questions about it, even though it led to the suspension of his constituency Labour party. Nevertheless, the Scottish Labour party had to admit in its report :
"Involvement of Councillors in the appointment procedures . . . was a practice which has left the Labour Group open to criticism." That is fairly mild language, but it is fairly serious when one realises what has gone on in that council.
Column 1178Public records are also now established about the wrongdoing. A recent ombudsman's report recorded maladministration. I give as an example the ombudsman's report in August 1993, on the son of Councillor Gilson--Councillor Gilson being a leading Monklands councillor--being allowed to buy his council house when neighbours in similar houses were not allowed to buy theirs. The ombudsman said : "My investigation of how this application was processed has been hampered because the authority have been unable to provide my investigating officer with information which might have revealed the reasons for the apparent inconsistency."
Earlier we heard about Islington council trying to keep secret a report on child care. Now we find that Monklands council managed to keep secret the way in which Councillor Gilson's son bought his council house for himself whereas other residents could not buy theirs.
The decision-making process on Monklands council is determined by who controls the local Labour party. In Monklands, control rests firmly with the small group known as the local Labour mafia. In Monklands, East, the Leader of the Opposition's constituency, the Labour party is bankrupt and in debt to the tune of £2,500. It is devoid of active members. Only about 100 people are active in the local Labour party.
Mr. Connarty : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have put up with this drivel for so long. Has this peroration on some local Labour party branch or constituency any relevance to the debate that the hon. Member is supposed to be speaking to ?
Mr. Connarty : I respect the Deputy Speaker's position, but I wonder whether a debate about a constituency Labour party which has absolutely no relevance to local government law in Scotland has any relevance.
Column 1179that a district Labour party which is responsible for controlling any policy matter relating to a district council in Scotland does not consist of members of a constituency Labour party. The hon. Gentleman is speaking about a constituency Labour party and who attended a constituency Labour party general committee. It has been ruled already in law that it is not a relevant matter on a district council. He was speaking about local government.
Mr. Shaw : I am only too happy for the hon. Gentleman either to intervene in my speech or, if he so wishes, to make his own speech afterwards. If he wants to attempt to alter or amend anything that I have said, I am sure that the House and the world will be very grateful. If he would have a word with the leader of his party and ask him to make a statement to the press correcting anything that I have said about Monklands, I am sure that the press and the world would be grateful if the Leader of the Opposition were to make a statement.
Mr. McMaster : Has not the Leader of the Opposition made it clear that the Secretary of State for Scotland has powers to investigate Monklands district council ? To date, the Secretary of State has chosen not to use those powers.
Mr. Shaw : The Secretary of State for Scotland has challenged the Leader of the Opposition to produce the internal Labour documents for the inquiry that I have just mentioned. The fact is that John Smith will not produce the papers.
Mr. Shaw : I apologise, of course, Madam Deputy Speaker. I meant to say that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) had not produced the background papers for the Labour party report.
Mr. McMaster : Has not the Minister with responsibility for Scottish local government, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), appeared on BBC television's excellent "Scottish Lobby" programme and said that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East has nothing to answer ?
Mr. Shaw : I have spoken to my hon. Friend the Minister. I have heard no suggestion that the Leader of the Opposition has nothing to answer. I have frequently heard my hon. Friend say that he believes that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East should stop being silent and behaving like a Trappist monk, and that he should make a statement about what is going on in his own constituency. I have heard that said at the Dispatch Box and more widely.
The Monklands, East Labour party is in a very bad state. It is controlled by no more than about 100 people. There is a heavy trade union vote.
Mr. Connarty : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) is supposed to be talking about local government. In fact, he is talking about Monklands, East constituency Labour party. It is clearly established that constituency Labour
Column 1180parties, under the local government law of Scotland, of which I have some knowledge, have nothing to do with district Labour parties or district councils.
As I have tried to say on a number of occasions--I wish to repeat the point --I am concerned about how the councillors become councillors. How do they remain as councillors ? How do they get access to the council gravy train ? The fact is that they get access to the council gravy train in Monklands by getting control of the local Labour party. They get control of the local Labour party because it is bankrupt and in debt to the tune of £2,500, and it has only about 100 members. As a result, it is quite easy to get control of a council with a turnover of £80 million simply by paying the subscriptions for about 100 members of the local Labour party in Monklands.
Mr. McMaster : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would you clarify this point ? Did you hear the hon. Member for Dover accuse the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East of paying for Labour party membership subscriptions in his constituency to ensure that he was the Member of Parliament for that constituency ?
Mr. Shaw : That was not what I said at all. The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) is clearly trying to distort the facts. All I said was that it was possible to control the whole of Monklands district council and some £80 million of council expenditure by paying for the subscriptions for 100 people. I did not say who was paying for the subscriptions for the 100 people. I leave it to the public to work that out.
On employment practices in Monklands, 40 close relatives of councillors have been appointed at secret meetings of the council. That has been achieved by a chairman, the convenor of the manpower services committee, or his representative, attending every interview for a job on the council. That practice has existed since the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) started it in the 1970s when he was the council's provost.
The House has also heard of the green and pink forms used by Monklands district council to ensure that councillors and their friends could distribute the green forms while the pink forms were left for the rest of the unemployed in Monklands. Consequently, many councillors' relatives and senior local Labour party members have jobs on the council.
Mr. McMaster : Will the hon. Gentleman answer two specific questions ? First, despite what he said earlier, did not the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) appear in the excellent "Scottish Lobby" programme about five or six weeks ago and say that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East had nothing to answer ? Secondly, in the past year the hon. Gentleman has
Column 1181asked several questions about Monklands, which I accept is his right as an hon. Member. How many questions has he asked in the past year about his own constituency of Dover, and how many has he asked about Monklands ?
Mr. Shaw : The hon. Gentleman must realise that Dover has assisted area status as a result of my efforts. It has much more going for it than Monklands, and Dover council is much more efficient. My constituents are extremely worried about the cost that they are paying for Labour-controlled councils like Monklands, where the Labour party is seriously abusing expenditure.
There has been a tremendous abuse of employment practices in Monklands. They have been purloined for the benefit of councillors and their families. A case has even been reported recently in which Councillor Fitzpatrick chaired an appeal committee of the council against an unfair dismissal involving three employees in which he upheld the dismissal. Having dismissed the three employees, he arranged for his brother-in-law to fill one of the jobs. The only problem was that the three men were later found to have been unfairly dismissed.
When the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East wrote to the council saying that that seemed to be wrong practice and unfair, he was told to go jump. The council was not interested in his views. The councillors in Monklands district council are more powerful than the Leader of the Opposition.
The other concern about employment practices which I want to bring to the attention of the House is that some 16 senior district Labour party members are employed by the council : Joe Barrett has family members employed. Celia Conwell, Des O'Neill, Joy Scott, Jay Brown, Matt Costello, Andy Burns, Stephen Fagan and Martin Dempsey are all senior Labour party officials employed by the council. According to the local newspaper, those do not include other Labour party members, whose numbers in some council departments are understood to be high. The Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser said on 25 September 1992 : "Two members of the District Labour party executive were among those promoted into highly-paid jobs in the Housing department. Others also include the election agent of a high- ranking Labour councillor, who also received a housing promotion, and the son of another senior member.
A council spokesman admitted the posts had not been advertised or interviews conducted . . . a leading Labour party member said, Monklands has become the Tammany hall of Scotland.'"
This week's edition of the paper has discovered that a district Labour party member, Alex Brown, a deputy house maintenance manager--why a deputy is needed I do not know ; when I was on Kingston council 20 years ago we abolished deputy posts, but there seems to be a plethora of them in Monklands--and his four sons are all employed by the council. There is more too : a daughter-in-law, a brother-in-law and possibly one more family member. It is believed that at least seven members of the family are
Column 1182employed by the council. They enjoy the knowledge that the senior member of the family is also a senior member of the party. Let us examine the planning process in Monklands and how the council operates its planning policies. Is the agenda under the control of the councillors, or under the control of a small clique of them ? There have been breaches of local plans. In 1981 Monklands district council passed a local plan, but when Councillor Brooks, the leader of the council, wanted planning permission, the Labour group gave him it, even though it breached seven of the
Mr. McMaster : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has just said that the Labour group on a Scottish council gave a member of that council planning permission for a development. Under Scottish law, planning permission is a quasi-judicial function and Labour groups are not allowed to participate in group decisions on planning permission. Is the hon. Gentleman allowed to say such things in the Chamber.
Mr. Connarty : On a point of order of my own, then. The Chair in this Chamber is supposed to protect the rights of the citizens of this country. Surely such defamation should not be allowed in the name of this Chamber ?
Madam Deputy Speaker : Members of this House have certain privileges that enable them to make statements. The only proviso is that we expect them to advance their views with circumspection and with due regard to the fact that they enjoy these privileges. The privileges exist nevertheless.
Mr. Shaw : The fact remains that seven of Monklands' planning policies were breached. That is not a point of contention ; it is admitted by everyone. Councillor Brooks correctly declared his interest at the official council meeting when the breach was effected, but I understand that the vote was taken at a Labour group meeting before the council meeting at which it was agreed to back Councillor Brooks' development. He received that backing even though the director of planning was not in agreement, and even though seven policies under the local plan were breached : policies H15, IND16, IND17, IND20, IND21, COM2(2), COM13 and COM15. But the leader of the council got his planning permission anyway, and he implemented it.
Mr. McMaster : The hon. Gentleman mentioned the year 1981 and made the scurrilous accusation that there was a breach of planning policy. As I recall, the director of planning in Monklands district council that year was Mr. Andrew Cowe, who later became the managing director of Renfrew district council. He still holds that post and is a former leader of Renfrew district council. I worked closely with him and hold him in the highest regard. Is the hon. Gentleman making any specific allegation against Mr. Andrew Cowe ?
Mr. Shaw : I understand that that particular planning officer left Monklands and went to Renfrew district council because of his disgust at the fact that the local plan in Monklands had been breached.
Mr. McMaster : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know the person whose name is being called into question very well indeed on a professional level. Mr. Andrew Cowe chose to leave Monklands district council because he sought promotion to a larger council--Renfrew district council. That was a scurrilous remark against an individual who cannot defend himself here.
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I must make clear to hon. Members the difference between disagreements and points of order. Of course the hon. Member may disagree strongly. I hope that he will have the opportunity to speak later, but that is not a point of order for the Chair.
Mr. Shaw : I have made it clear I am not in any way criticising the gentleman who has just been named. He did very well to make it clear that he was not in agreement with what the Labour party was doing in Monklands district council. He did not like what the Labour party was up to and he went on record saying that the way in which the Labour party was operating in Monklands district council was totally corrupt and wrong. He did it in the most obvious way possible, yet still they voted through the planning permission that breached seven areas of the local plan to give considerable financial benefit to the leader of the council.
Many people may well ask who gets the planning permission that counts in Monklands. I have already spoken of the leader of the council who got his planning permission for Dundyvan road. He built some flats, some offices and a nursing home. He took a Scottish Development Agency loan of £45,000 and got the agency to write it off, without repaying the loan. His company still owns the land and the building despite the fact that it went into liquidation, the creditors were not paid and the taxpayer lost some £45,000. More significant is the planning permission that S. L. Homes Ltd. has managed to achieve. The company's last filed accounts in 1991 showed assets of £7 million and liabilities of nearly £7 million. The company was in financial difficulties, and it is supported by Scottish Legal Life Assurance, a company that has many policyholders and investors. The company had appointed directors to the board of S. L. Homes Ltd., but did the assurance company's directors know about the loan of £35,000 ?
Mr. Connarty : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has raised the discussions of constituency Labour parties. Unfortunately, he does not realise that they have nothing at all to do with district Labour parties or councils in Scotland. Now he is talking about a company--not a local authority but a company in the house building business.