Sunday, 11 September 2011

Brian Coleman - a global watchword for political greed

It's been a heavy week for me, personally and politically. Next week looks like being just as gruelling. Many Barnet council staff have been feeling the heat from their managers, and in the coming days must dip into their reserves of courage. So this is just what we need for a Sunday evening, to lift our spirits and remind us why we fight on.

Yes, word of the venality, the personal greed, the ignominy of Barnet's most famous son, Councillor Brian Coleman, has now reached as far as the Far East. Brian Coleman is now a global watchword for political greed.

I came across this report on the website of the Malaysian Sun. Enjoy - even as you are, of course, appalled:
Richard Orange was at the Centre of Investigative Journalism in London three years ago where about 50 of us were attending a dour lecture on local council funds.

It may have interested locals as the laws provided them the right to inspect accounts and demand explanations even from the guys who approved the accounts – the auditors.

But sitting with him over a beer in the evenings, sharing the Malaysian experience of extravagance, what he spoke about makes our councillors appear as neophytes compared to the antics and frolics of some members of British local councils.

Orange is no ordinary Joe. He provides expert advice on the operation of national audit regulations governing access to public accounts and has already taken one local authority to the High Court over its failure to release financial data to taxpayers, and recently unearthed a corrupt land deal which led to the imprisonment of an East Midlands council leader.

He gave several leads on extravagance following the decision by the central government to slash its funding to local governments.

Councils, in turn were forced to cut their budgets and some even threatened to close down public amenities like libraries and recreational facilities and also charge for entry to parks and museums.

But given access to information, the excesses of some councils and their members began to make people wonder if they had elected the right people to run their councils.

Because of easy access to information, the public discovered that Brian Coleman, the Tory councillor for Barnet used almost £3,500 (RM16,714) of taxpayers' money last year for journeys that included ferrying his mother to events in taxis.

He claimed the expenses as chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. Of the eight members on the authority, only two others claimed any expenses whatsoever and the second highest claim was almost 10 times less than Coleman's.

In 2008, Coleman, who is said to earn almost £120,000 a year, was criticised for running up a taxi bill of £8,231 as an assembly member, including a £656 bill on one day. He was nicknamed "grab-a-cab Coleman" by his colleagues who use public transport or bicycles.

His latest expenses reveal he claimed nearly £700 on congestion charge fees last year. At the same time he was spending hundreds of pounds of taxpayers' money on taxis, some with his mother Gladys, 88, who often accompanied him to formal events.

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