Yesterday I blogged about councillors' allowances. I suggested that allowances we paid to councillors should be at a level to attract younger councillors - and at a level so that someone wishing to do the job wholeheartedly should be able to afford to do so.
Today we had Radio Cornwall, courtesy of Graham Smith, spending several hours discussing the rights and wrongs of Cllr Alex Folkes, the Deputy Leader of the Lib Dem group on Cornwall Council, not paying council tax until he was summonsed by a magistrate.
Cllr Folkes' apologised. He stated that he believed a person's tax affairs were private and should remain so. He also said that he had been finding that he depended on his councillor's allowance and that he had found it hard to manage his personal finances on that allowance leading to the non-payment of his council tax bill.
Unlike many, trying to score party political points, I have sympathy for Alex Folkes. For what it is worth to him, I would like to offer my public support for him on this issue. I probably disgree with more of his Lib Dem views than I agree with, but I have to recognise that he passionately believes that he is trying to do his best for the people of Launceston. He works extremely hard and I would imagine that in return, if you worked out his hourly rate (from his allowance) it would be way below minimum wage levels. I think it is wrong not to pay your tax but for me the question is whether there was an attempt to avoid paying it altogether or just being unable to pay it on time.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of not paying your tax bills, I think that this highlights the need to find ways to encourage a diversity of people into local government and that allowances are one way to do this as long as they are connected to robust performance criteria.
Alex, himself, has touched on this last point here. Of course Alec Robertson would be opposed to increasing the diversity of social background of councillors - his Tory chums are probably the ones who most fit the retired, or 'of independent means' bracket.
.... and this brings me to the point of this blog.
Alec Robertson, in his radio interview, was quite unforgiving, gleeful and categoric in calling for Cllr Folkes' resignation. He stated that if a member of the Tory group had failed to pay their tax then they would be dealt with by the Conservatives (or words to that effect).
There are a few reasons why I am concerned with this performance from Cllr Robertson.
First, it seems very hypocritical of a person who voted against the incinerator and then wrote secret letters in support of it to be pronouncing on this sort of issue.
Secondly, this whole issue is being brought down into the Westminster party political gutter by the way that the Tories seem to be as one in their condemnation.
As a final thought - Graham Smith has been unable to obtain information from Cornwall Council relating to the 17 councillors who have had unpaid council tax arrears. Surely, as leader of the Council, Alec Robertson would have access to this information? If he does have access then it begs the question whether there are any Tories in the infamous 17. If there are then, given his categoric stand on the future of Alex Folkes, why isn't Alec Robertson doing anything about it - as he vehemently declared he would on Radio Cornwall. If there aren't any Tories on the list then no wonder that he can so glibly call for Alex Folkes' resignation.
If he does have access to this information, is that information now being used for party political purposes? Of course, I'm not suggesting that this is the case - but it would be interesting to know if Cllr Robertson does indeed know who the 17 are.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this whole sorry affair, it does show that in Cornwall we need politicians who will put Cornwall first - even above their political party.