SNP shame game recalls dismal days of Tory rule in Helensburgh
The Town Council used to do it in Helensburgh and other Tory-controlled areas. They had a policy of naming and shaming for people who didn’t pay their rent or rates.
The list was displayed for all the world to see in a glass case on the wall outside the old council offices in Sinclair Street.
Inevitably, it was the poorest people in the community whose names appeared on the list. Seldom, if ever, was the name of anyone who lived “up the hill” on it.
At that time, the councillors were all dyed in the wool Tories who spoke with public school accents, wore tweeds, and their old school (or regimental) tie. There were no women on the council.
The members were drawn from business owners or industrialists or the accountant/lawyer types who caught the “bowler hat express” from Helensburgh to Glasgow each morning.
But times have changed. The Colonel Blimps have gone to the military officers’ mess in the sky and Helensburgh has been incorporated into the gerrymandered set-up that is now Argyll and Bute, one of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.
Helensburgh, Cardross, Faslane and the Rosneath Peninsula plus Loch Lomondside from Arden to Arrochar were all taken out of Dunbartonshire when the boundaries were withdrawn.
Dunbartonshire lost all the much-needed cash from business rates and council tax that previously accrued to the local authority here.
That happened after a referendum which followed a row in Labour-controlled Dumbarton District about investment (or lack of it) in leisure amenities and libraries in Helensburgh.
The outcome was that Dumbarton District, which had stupidly styled itself as a “nuclear free zone” despite the fact that it had enough armaments and weapons of mass destruction in it to blow up half the world.
The Labour council made the stupidest mistake in politics which was to hold a referendum when they didn’t know what the outcome would be.
The Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron did the same thing when the Brexit Referendum was held in the UK – and look where that has got us.
His successor, Theresa May, is now dancing to the tune of African tribal drums in an effort to cope with the consequences of that howler.
It is generally agreed that the country is in a mess and more and more signs of it moving to the far right are becoming evident.
The decision by SNP-controlled West Dunbartonshire Council to publicly name businesses who fail to pay their taxes is one of them, albeit a very small one in the great scheme of things.
The move approved by the Corporate Services Committee “is intended to raise awareness of a small number of companies avoiding paying their Non-Domestic Rates (NDR) and will see the business’ details published on the Council website and highlighted via social media”.
For a council unprepared to recognise social media as a platform to have a local news service such as The Democrat this is remarkable.
Have they recognised at last that social media is an excellent way to communicate your message?
The “name and shame” game is a policy that has never worked and cannot work because businesses that fail can legally go bankrupt.
West Dunbartonshire says that in some cases the firms cease trading and have the debt written off, only for the owners to launch a new company delivering similar services. These are often referred to as phoenix companies.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but that is allowed and there is not a single thing the council can do about it.
Only parliament can change the law which means that West Dunbartonshire will have to call Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh and tell her to get on with it.
Meanwhile, the Council’s corporate debt team will give businesses a fixed amount of time to pay off their charges, in line with non domestic rate recovery legislation.
A final recovery notice will be issued six months after the first instalment is due and thereafter if the debt is not settled a summary warrant will be sought.
Where payment is still not received, the Council will publish the name, type of business, address, period of default and the total amount due.
It is intended that the move will lead to businesses working better with the Council to take advantage of the supports available to them and settle their bills, before getting to the stage of being named online.
The first publication is likely to be in January 2019.
Councillor Ian Dickson, Convener of Corporate Services, said: “We are keen to do everything we can to support businesses in our area but it has to be a level playing field and firms which don’t pay their debts disadvantage other businesses and ultimately cost everyone, and last year it amounted to over £1 million.
“This has been something which we’ve been keen to do for some time and there was unanimous support from the committee for this move. By publicising the companies which don’t pay we will also be helping residents make informed decisions about the businesses they engage with.”
I’m not sure it’is in any council’s remit or within its powers to encourage a boycott of any business, although they and their SNP masters have done that to The Democrat.
Perhaps they regret that they have now moved from their Garshake offices and left that huge man-made lochan behind on the hill?
They could have introduced a ducking stool there for residents who renege on their council tax.
Councillor Iain McLaren, Vice-Convener of Corporate Services, said: “We will make every attempt to engage with businesses in our area. We understand that companies, can experience challenges and we will support them. We will only take this step where businesses have repeatedly ignored our requests for payment. It is very much a last resort for the Council.”
Well, although The Democrat is not a business as such, we see ourselves as a service supplying the community with news, comment and opinion, free and unfettered in any way so long as it stays on the right side of the law. We have never libelled or defamed the council or anyone on it.
We have a long and distinguished track record spanning more than 50 years of journalistic excellence in this community and we won’t be put off by council bans or SNP boycotts.