Letter:Politics may cost councillors their jobs

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The Independent Online
From Cllr Katie Ivens and others Sir: The position taken by the District Auditor, John Magill, in his Westminster housing investigation, raises serious questions not only for the City of Westminster but for every local councillor in the land. The District Auditor evidently contends that councillors may be liable to a charge of wilful misconduct even when their political decisions have been made on explicit legal advice, and that they may be surcharged and disqualified if, in his opinion, there has been financial loss. If Mr Magill's position is correct, then local councillors place themselves at personal, professional and financial risk every time they cast their vote; for even if they act on their legal officers' advice, the legitimacy of their political decision maylater be disputed. If, before they have had a chance to make their case at a hearing, provisional findings against them are announced at a press conference, they may suffer immediate destruction of their careers and reputations, financial loss in lawyers' fees and be banned (by section 30) from defending themselves from public accusations. If local politicians may not legitimately carry out the political programmes on which they were elected, there can be no future for local government or for public-spirited people coming forward for election to local councils. Westminster's District Auditor has effectively decided that politics should play no part in local government - an absurd and undemocratic proposition at variance with the view of Birmingham's District Auditor, who, in December 1994, stated: "There is nothing unlawful in trying to gain in popularity prior to an election by meeting local needs, providing that the expenditure is properly authorised and reasonable." We shall be writing to Mr Magill, urging him to clarify the status of officers' legal advice to councillors, and whether such advice provides adequate defence against subsequent charges of wilful misconduct. Yours faithfully, KATIE IVENS, RONALD RAYMOND-COX, KEVIN GARDNER, JENNY BIANCO, MARTIN JIGGENS, CYRIL NEMETH, ROBERT DAVIS, ANNE MALLINSON, ED LAZARUS, NIKKI PAGE and all the other members of the Conservative Group

Westminster Council

London, SW1