LEEDS Council has backed down from a legal bid to keep the identity of councillors sent a court summons over unpaid council tax secret and issued a public apology.
Announcing the U-turn, chief executive Tom Riordan said: “Sometimes we don’t get things right and we need to acknowledge that, apologise, and make sure we learn from it. That’s what we are doing today.”
The council has now disclosed Arif Hussain, Pauleen and Ron Grahame and Kim Groves, who all represent Labour, received a summons during the last two financial years.
Last week it was revealed the Information Commissioner had upheld an appeal from the YEP and said the four councillors should be identified after the authority refused a freedom of information request. But the council initially responded by refusing to comply and planned to spend public money on a legal challenge at a tribunal.
The council’s stance prompted an outcry, including a fledging online petition and criticism from campaign group the TaxPayers’ Alliance who said it showed “a contempt towards public scrutiny and accountability.”
Mr Riordan said: “As a council we place very high value on being open, honest and transparent and regret that in this instance our actions may not have been viewed in this particular way by the general public.”
Pauleen Grahame, who represents Cross Gates and Whinmoor, and Ron Grahame, member for Burmantofts and Richmond Hill, were summonsed for £830 at their shared address, including costs, in 2015/16.
The council said they had “mistakenly missed payment on their instalment plan. As soon as they were made aware of the summons they paid the outstanding amount owed.” Pauleen Grahame said the mistake was down to a direct debit error by their bank.
Gipton and Harehills councillor Arif Hussain received a summons for £590, including costs, in 2014/15 but the authority said it was withdrawn after Coun Hussain said there were new occupiers of the property and he wasn’t liable for the bill. After a recalculation he subsequently received a small refund.
Middleton Park Labour councillor Kim Groves received a summons for £227.02, including costs, in 2015/16 but the council said the summons was withdrawn after it was alerted to a mix-up related to the councillor moving home and a credit due on the old address not being recognised. This was compounded by problems forwarding mail and Coun Groves not being aware of the mix-up until after the summons was issued.
She said: “This was an administrative blip on a previously unblemished account going back over 20 years. The Council Tax office tell me if not for the admin error no summons would have been raised.” The authority initially provided limited information on two councillors, Labour members Ghulam Hussain and Jonathan Pryor, who had been made subject to liability orders and declined to identify two others in the same situation. It subsequently disclosed Labour councillor Asghar Khan was one of the two, while details of the other, who had suffered a bereavement, were withheld.
But the authority continued to refuse to say if there were any other councillors who had been summonsed to court but paid up before a hearing. It emerged there were a further four councillors, now identified, in that position.