Saturday, May 19, 2007

Local Government in Scotland still needing cleaned up as expectations grow of new SNP Executive

While the new SNP Executive begins it's business, attention briefly turns again this week to local government in Scotland - which seems to be still full of sleaze & controversy, as the now former Chief Executive of East Lothian Council quit after astonishingly comparing his treatment to that of the Virginia Tech killer who murdered 32 people on April 17.

I cannot but help wonder, like the rest of you, what on earth John Lindsay could mean by comparing his behaviour to this horrific incident. Surely he isn't trying to justify what happened at Virginia Tech as a comparison to questions raised over his £130,000 redundancy payoff after he himself recommended to Councillors his Department be closed ... recommendations which were supported by legal advice from the Council's own legal team ...but are now allegedly 'under investigation' by the new LibDem/SNP coalition which took control from the former Labour Council.

The whole saga began when the Scotsman revealed in February that Mr Lindsay's recommendations to close his own department & make him redundant, would give him a £130,000 redundancy package on top of a pension of £55,000 a year and a lump-sum payment of £155,000 that he was entitled to when he retired. What a great pay off indeed - and no wonder the newspapers caught onto it !

A particularly nice touch to the story came in the Friday edition of the Scotsman newspaper, where a letter appeared from Mr Lindsay's family to their local newspaper, complaining about the publicity & treatment of Mr Lindsay .. a copy of this letter appears in the Scotsman article quoted below.

I wasn't too surprised to see a letter from the family in such terms (although I was surprised to see it in a newspaper, rather than being submitted to the Council itself) .. maybe worth someone checking to see if the Council got the same kind of letter too. This has been a tactic of professionals for years when they are caught out in an inquiry, investigation, or complaint against their activities ... where excuses for large orchestrated frauds can range from mental problems to stress to tripping over a pavement.

Lawyers, for instance, constantly use representations from their families, or pleas regarding their families to Complaints Committees at the Law Society of Scotland, when they are caught by a client complaint.

These letters usually bring in the lawyers wife, children (who have to be educated at private schools), large house, upkeep on the second home, four cars, 3 holidays a year, and even the cat & dog's greater right to life & existence over a client or member of the public .. and of course, every lawyer's argument they shouldn't face being drummed out of the legal profession just because a client caught them stealing money or overcharging for work, or lying about work & faking files, or stealing a clients home ... all of those things should be wiped clean, simply because of the lawyer's long studies at university, which their colleagues maintain make them immune from obeying the rules and obeying the law - after all, they are lawyers, and their Law Society of Scotland should let them off the hook - which they usually do !

If that isn't enough, crooked lawyers also have Law Care to turn to - an organisation run by another crooked lawyer, James Ness - whom I remember well as being the same crooked lawyer who got Scotlands Most Famous Crooked Lawyer - Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso , off the hook, with a similar letter regarding Penman's family's right to depend on their crooked breadwinner Andrew Penman going on to ruin even more clients - which he did !

The Scotsman reported that particular part of my story quite well here :

Scotsman 2 March 1998 Jury still out on law in the dock - Revelations on Andrew Penman & James Ness

Turning back now to the new Scottish Executive, I hope our new First Minister Alex Salmond is going to be attentive to the issues of Justice & Injustice - issues he, and the rest of his team know full well, have been ongoing for far too long.

Without quoting names or cases, there is on average of well over 1000 individual representations a year from members of the public and their elected MSPs and mps, to the Scottish Executive Justice Department over problems with lawyers, the Law Society, Advocates, the Courts, the Judiciary .. That has been going on for years - at least since 1994 when I found out about it and probably before then.

The stacks of correspondence are immense and if someone were to browse the actual letters sent by politicians on behalf of constituents they might wonder why on earth the same kinds of letters were coming from the same politicians (from ALL parties, including the SNP) on behalf of different constituents over the same problems, week in week out, year in year out ... and the replies usually range from - see a lawyer to we can't do anything about it because the relevant professional body is mandated in law to regulate its members - those replies come from civil servants right up to ministerial level.

The SNP need to address this problem of "self regulation" which exists not only for lawyers, but also accountants, the Police, Courts Service, etc .. and end it ..and it shouldn't take another 13 years of considering the facts - because the politicians all know full well what's been going on for all these years.

Time now for some action on the part of the SNP, after all, it took a Labour administration to actually have the guts to pass the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act in the first place .. now the SNP should go one better and fully implement independent transparent regulation for the legal profession, judiciary & the rest, and also, deal with the past victims of these professions, giving them a measure of justice which has been denied for all these years.

Alex Salmond wants to improve Scotland, and I support him for that - so let's get Justice & Injustice to the top of the agenda and clean up the legal system, make it honest again, and fix the problems of the past.

Let's hope though, the MSPs don't follow Westminster's example & make themselves exempt from Freedom Of Information - just because of all the revelations they were fiddling their expenses big time ! See the BBC News report listing which MP voted to keep their dirty expenses secrets away from the public gaze here : MPs who backed FOI bid

Articles from the Scotsman featuring the now ex-leader of East Lothian Council & reports on the new Scottish Executive to follow :

'I've been treated worse than the Virginia Tech killer'

A SENIOR council official criticised for accepting a six-figure redundancy payment months before he could have retired has compared his treatment to that of the Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui.

In an interview with his local newspaper, John Lindsay, 59, said the "maniac who ran amok at that college in America, murdering 33 people, never got treated like I did".

His comments, described by opposition politicians as "particularly tasteless", come as Mr Lindsay, the chief executive of East Lothian Council, faces an investigation by the public-spending watchdog over the decision to engineer his own redundancy after 40 years at the authority.

The move - revealed by The Scotsman in February - will give him a £130,000 redundancy package on top of a pension of £55,000 a year and a lump-sum payment of £155,000 that he was entitled to when he retired.

The revelations have plunged the council into chaos and put Mr Lindsay's conduct under the microscope. The new SNP-Lib Dem administration has ordered an inquiry into the payment.

The incoming administration has been accused in a letter from Mr Lindsay's wife and children of being part of the "systematic grinding down" of the official.

Meanwhile, the authority issued a statement formally distancing itself from Mr Lindsay, and appeared to reject his bid to withdraw his early retirement and remain in position. But yesterday, the council's choice as his replacement told The Scotsman he would not want the post if Mr Lindsay opted to stay.

The council's statement said: "The comments attributed to John Lindsay, in which he states he wishes to remain in his post rather than take a redundancy package, were made by him in a personal capacity and do not reflect the opinion of East Lothian Council on these matters".

The drama intensified yesterday when Mr Lindsay broke his silence in an interview with the East Lothian Courier. He said: "My reputation's been trashed in some sections of the press and I am not retiring under a cloud.

"That maniac who ran amok at that college in America, murdering 33 people, never got treated like I did.

"I can't retire under these circumstances, so I am no longer volunteering to be made redundant and will carry on working."

He went on: "I was put into a redundancy situation as a result of a restructure which everyone agreed was a good idea - reducing bureaucracy, improving efficiency, making savings of £435,000 in four-and-a-half years - and I volunteered, never expecting to be treated in such a manner.

"Friends and colleagues in the private sector must look on in amazement at such goings on in local government, since making savings and improving efficiency is what business is all about. This was a good piece of business for East Lothian Council and followed the government's efficiency agenda."

In a separate move, Mr Lindsay's wife, Laura, and his four children sent a letter to the newspaper saying he had been the target of "small-minded individuals both in the surrounding community and within the walls of the council offices".

It said the "vitriol and hostility displayed to John does not reflect well on his new employers in East Lothian Council".

Margo MacDonald, the independent Lothians MSP, advised Mr Lindsay to make no more public statements on the affair.

She said: "He should go and find a darkened room and have a quiet lie down. He's in a hole and should stop digging."

A Conservative spokesman said of the Virginia Tech comparison: "This is a particularly tasteless remark, and one we hope he now regrets making."

Alex McCrorie, the council's finance director and the man due to be Mr Lindsay's replacement, has said he does not think he will now be chief executive.

Phillip Hodson, a psychologist and a fellow of the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists, said Mr Lindsay's reference to Virginia Tech was probably made under extreme stress.

He said: "The remark is extraordinary and would suggest that the provocation he has been under has been intense.

"I am sure he will feel differently about his remarks when he sees them in black and white in the papers. I expect we will be hearing an apology soon."

Last night David Berry, the new SNP leader, said the council would be taking legal advice on whether Mr Lindsay could withdraw his resignation.

He added: "It's fine for other politicians to comment that this is inappropriate. John is very emotional about this, because he believed his reputation is at stake.

"I'm not going to comment on whether it was inappropriate. I'm trying to deal with the substantive part of this problem, not the emotional part."
John Lindsay’s wife and children wrote this letter to their local newspaper complaining about the way he has been treated

John Lindsay’s wife and children wrote this letter to their local newspaper complaining about the way he has been treated


THE controversy arose when Mr Lindsay, who is 59 and could have retired with a pension of more than £50,000 a year and a lump sum of more than £150,000, recommended to the council that he be made redundant. Getting rid of the post of "chief executive/director of the department of the chief executive" would cut the number of senior council officials from five to four, he told councillors.

However, that decision meant Mr Lindsay would qualify for a redundancy payment of around £130,000 on top of the pension and lump sum to which he was entitled after 40 years of service. The decision was defended by the then-Labour council, which claimed it would save £400,000 over four years.

The position changed after the May elections when Labour lost to an SNP/Lib Dem coalition. On Tuesday, the new administration agreed to investigate the payment to Mr Lindsay. Later that day, Mr Lindsay said he was "no longer volunteering" for redundancy.

'Hello Alex, congratulations' ... the call that never came

IT COSTS a few pence but the price of a phone call to congratulate Scotland's new First Minister was too high for the next Prime Minister to bear.

Gordon Brown has not picked up the phone to call Alex Salmond, the First Minister, whom he believes is hell-bent on destroying the United Kingdom, the political stewardship of which Mr Brown is weeks away from inheriting.

Two Scotsmen, both forceful, driven men in their fifties, yesterday achieved their lifelong ambitions, finally clinching the jobs they have dreamt of through years of uncertainty and doubt.

But reaching their goals was just about the only thing that Mr Brown and Mr Salmond had in common.

In London, ten years after first entering government, Mr Brown secured the Labour leadership and the keys to 10 Downing Street. And in Edinburgh, two weeks after his knife-edge election win, Mr Salmond was sworn in as First Minister, soon to reside in Bute House.

During those two weeks, there has been no direct communication between Mr Brown and Mr Salmond, no collegiate phone call between two men who have known each other well for more than two decades.

Douglas Alexander, the Scottish Secretary of State and even the Rev Ian Paisley, the new First Minister of Northern Ireland and arch-protector of the union, have been in touch with Mr Salmond to exchange niceties.

But between Westminster and Holyrood, the union is already showing its fractures.

Mr Brown has been keen to resist associating himself with the aftermath of the Scottish elections.

Even the venues Mr Brown and Mr Salmond chose on what was effectively their first day in office, unofficially and officially respectively - demonstrated their divergent political agendas and priorities.

For Mr Salmond, the day started with an oath-swearing ceremony in a packed courtroom.

Back at the Scottish Parliament, a Cabinet was sworn in, then followed a jubilant photo-call outside Bute House.

During his first formal official engagement on a visit to the Longannet power station, Mr Salmond said: "I look forward to speaking to Gordon and as soon as he is officially in office I'm sure he'll give me a ring and we'll set up a meeting and we'll hopefully work constructively for the future of Scotland.

"The things that were said by Gordon during the election campaign - lots of things are said in the heat of battle.

"Now that the dust is settling I'm quite sure that Gordon, like me, puts the Scottish interest among our paramount concerns and that we will work together in the Scottish interest."

The Chancellor chose a different type of power-house for his acceptance speech - the slick City of London headquarters of Bloomberg, the US financial information giant.

Its data is the lifeblood of investment bankers and millionaire traders who are the new aristocracy of the globalised economy. Increasingly, they are also advisers on government policy.

Clearly, no one could be allowed to think Mr Brown plans to lead Labour back to the left.

In Bloomberg's neon-lit auditorium, the new, happy, smiling Mr Brown was on display, the prime minister-elect clearly revelling in his total dominance of the Labour leadership election, dominance that yesterday confirmed he will not face a ballot for the post.

He grinned repeatedly as he took questions about his triumph and about the full prime ministerial range of political issues, from managing the National Health Service to Britain's relationship with Europe and the US.

But one question seemed to send a dark cloud fleeting across the Chancellor's sunny visage: "Why had he not congratulated Mr Salmond on his appointment, and did he look forward to working with the new First Minster?"

"I congratulate him on becoming First Minister," Mr Brown replied, momentarily forgetting to smile. As for why he had not picked up the phone in person, Mr Brown insisted that a call to Mr Salmond on Wednesday from Douglas Alexander, "our Secretary of State for Scotland," would suffice.

If Mr Brown grimaced at the mention of Mr Salmond's name, it was because the nationalist coup in Edinburgh threatens to cast a long shadow over his premiership.

He has made no secret of his belief that Labour will only win a fourth general election if it holds on to the marginal seats in southern England.

In those areas, for Mr Brown to be seen to obsess about events in Edinburgh could remind voters their new prime minister is a Scot, an MP whose government at Westminster passes legislation largely irrelevant to his own Fife constituents. A high-profile war with Mr Salmond is simply not in Mr Brown's interests. However, it could be in Scottish Labour's. For many hope that Mr Brown will put the squeeze on Mr Salmond, leading to his minority government falling, enabling a new Labour-Lib Dem alliance to pounce.

The incoming prime minister plans to pile pressure on to the new First Minister, forcefully reminding Mr Salmond that he holds power by a slender margin with no mandate for major constitutional change.

"I think it's a huge responsibility that he has taken on," Mr Brown said of Mr Salmond, serving notice that Labour will quickly condemn as "irresponsible" any SNP move to alter the devolution settlement.

"He is the lead party in terms of numbers of parliamentary seats," Mr Brown said, his voice drained of earlier enthusiasm. "But he doesn't have a majority."

He continued: "While I congratulate him and respect the decision that has been made, I remain firmly committed to the union."

"I do not believe the vote was a vote for separation and independence."

During his speech, Mr Brown highlighted a "draft constitutional reform bill" which would give people a "new kind of politics" where power would be devolved down at a local level.

"I want to be a voice for communities far beyond Westminster," he said.

Mr Brown did not refer to Mr Salmond's ambition, but earlier, Jack Straw, the leader of the House of Commons, dropped a hint that ministers in London will resist any move to alter Holyrood's powers.

"The terms of the devolution settlement have not been altered by either the election results in Scotland or by the election of a new First Minister in Scotland yesterday," Mr Straw told the SNP's Angus MacNeil.

Mr Straw is no mere middling cabinet minister fobbing off a nationalist question. He has managed Mr Brown's campaign for the leadership and has thought deeply about constitutional reform, thoughts that will inevitably inform Mr Brown's approach as prime minister.

Privately, another minister close to Mr Brown yesterday sketched out a relationship between London and Edinburgh where both sides seek to avoid spectacular confrontations.

"Alex is a smart politician, but he didn't plan to find himself in this position, so he's having to make it up as he goes along," he said.

"If he doesn't go looking to pick fights, that's fine by us. But the question is whether his party will be willing to let him to do that.

"He may well struggle with discipline and that could mean it all kicks off."
Criticism starts early as First Minister is sworn in

ALEX Salmond officially became Scotland's new First Minister yesterday after being sworn in at a brief legal ceremony.

Mr Salmond took the oaths of office at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, watched by 15 of the country's Law Lords. An assortment of SNP members, legal figures and parliament staff packed number one court, with many onlookers having to stand in the aisles and on its upper floor.

Mr Salmond's decision to slash the size of the Cabinet at Holyrood to 16 posts - compared to 19 under Jack McConnell - prompted criticism.

Both Mr McConnell, the Labour leader, and Tavish Scott, his Liberal Democrat counterpart, hit out at the size of the department to be headed by John Swinney, as cabinet secretary for finance and sustainable growth.

As well as the economy and local government, and the budget, it will take in energy, tourism, climate change, public transport and Scottish Water.

Mr McConnell said this would jeopardise the economy's place as the top priority.

DEVOLVED ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may unite to demand more power and money from London, it emerged last night.

An SNP source close to the Scottish Executive last night raised the prospect of reviving a Whitehall committee to co-ordinate pressure on Westminster.

The Joint Ministerial Committee, originally created to act as a conduit between devolved administrations and London ministers, has lain dormant since 2002.

But with the Scottish Nationalists in charge in Scotland and the Northern Ireland assembly now restored, there is talk of the committee being started up again and used to make new demands on Westminster, possibly even cuts in corporation tax.

The first signs of co-operation emerged yesterday with the news of a conversation on Wednesday night between Alex Salmond and Rev Ian Paisley, the First Minister of Northern Ireland.

"There are things Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have in common. If we go to the British government in harness, we will get more out of them," Rev Paisley said.

He added that Mr Salmond would visit Belfast next week for talks.


Anonymous said...

Too much to digest on a Saturday Peter but the letter thing was a good low trick !

Anonymous said...

I agree Lindsay probably got the legal go ahead to do what he did so why all the shouting about it from the hootsmon !

If lawyers say its good then of course we have to believe then, right ?