Tuesday, January 24, 2012
SNP Government Minister Alex Neil accuses Labour North Lanarkshire Council personnel of "robbing” elderly citizens, election flared up backfires
You can tell that parties are in an election mode by rhetoric coming out in the scrum to get voters.
However in using rhetoric you have to be careful, Alex Neil is a senior Scottish Government Minister. He is a very good speaker, in fact if I get the opportunity to listen to him rather than some of my less gifted SNP colleagues, I pick him everytime, he is a good performer, knows his stuff and can pitch it at a level that gets the message across.
This time in getting his message out, he has sparked fury among unions and council leaders after accusing his local authority of being "bloated" and "barely fit for purpose".
John Reid, the former Labour Minister first came out with the ‘unfit for purpose’ during an investigation into the Home Office and how it was run.
The phrase ‘unfit for purpose’ was then picked up on by many ‘professionals’ as management speak jargon.
Alex Neil is the MSP for Airdrie and Shotts, he has come out and said that North Lanarkshire Council has been "badgering people on the lowest of incomes".
Other claims are that the education department is over-staffed and that its housing division is letting homes "which are not in a fit state for a family to live in".
On badgering people, he says:
"The finance department badger people on the lowest of incomes for money which sometimes they don't even owe."
I don’t think that this type of mistake is specific to North Lanarkshire and I very much doubt that in SNP Councils mistakes don’t happen.
As to the education department being overstaffed, is he suggesting that if the SNP wins the North Lanarkshire Council, they would carry out widespread redundancies post election?
As for the housing issue, and letting homes "which are not in a fit state for a family to live in", perhaps he should as an SNP Minister bring in a bill for a minimum standard. Houses and flats have to be wind and water tight before they are let, along with having running water and other amenities as a Scottish standard. I am unsure what else Alex Neil could be referring too, perhaps he might expand.
After Neil Neil has made his comments, workers have reacted angrily towards the minister with unions stepping in to demand an apology. At election time isn’t considered smart to even hint that employees are going to get sacked.
Even if that could be part of a future SNP Council’s agenda!
Unison has reacted quickly by sending a letter of complaint to both Mr Neil and First Minister Alex Salmond criticising the comments.
Unison's rep, Chris Armstrong, said:
"Alex Neil should apologise to our 7500 members at North Lanarkshire. Fair enough if he wants to have a pop at the administration but not the workers. We don't need Alex Neil using us as a political football at a time when cuts mean the council has had to get shot of people and those remaining have to do more and more."
A senior North Lanarkshire administration source said:
"Alex Neil is an embarrassment to the SNP and Scottish Government. This type of overblown rhetoric with no basis in fact is a serious error of judgment. More than 70% of our 17,000 staff live in North Lanarkshire and will be voting in the council elections in May so hardly the smartest move in the world or a vote-winning strategy."
A spokesman for North Lanarkshire Council said:
"We do not recognise the portrayal of the council by Alex Neil MSP. Audit Scotland, in finding that the council is high-performing, stated that the council has good strategic direction, with good leadership and clear vision. We will be responding appropriately to Mr Neil in due course."
The unfortunate thing in the broadside fired back is Audit Scotland finding the council is high-performing, stated that the council has good strategic direction, with good leadership and clear vision.
One of the things in the Scottish National Party which concerns me as an SNP Member is that certain people in the party who hold positions or are connected to the senior leadership think that it is acceptable to smear people and get away with it because they are 'protected'.
Some of these people doing the smearing are the employees and relatives of SNP MSPs, the real ‘cybernats’.
In a column in a local newspaper, Mr Neil rather unwisely stated new North Lanarkshire charges were "robbing many elderly citizens of a large chunk of their pension."
By using the word ‘robbing’, he has accused personnel of North Lanarkshire of being involved in a systematic fraud through-out the council; however I don’t believe that is what he meant, I would say that he meant the charges were unfair, but regardless he still shouldn’t have used such language.
What is said publicly matters, as everything is governed by the Nolan Principles of standards conducted in public life.
His claim of believing North Lanarkshire was one of the worst-run authorities is subjective since, he hasn’t personal first hand knowledge of working in other council.
In refusing to apologise or back down Alex Neil has defending his position by saying:
"Any sensible person knows my comments were directed at the Labour leadership and a handful of senior officers, not the workers for whom I have the highest respect. The council is led by a political dinosaur and I can give example after example illustrating the points I've made. For too long North Lanarkshire has been run as a one-party state. The Unison representative should worry more about the compulsory redundancies facing the workers than any loyalty to Labour."
So, a sensible person would think it is okay to accuse North Lanarkshire Council of "robbing many elderly citizens of a large chunk of their pension."
I don’t think so.
Also giving example after example of his points only proves that personnel maybe incompetent which flies in the face of him saying that he has the “highest respect” for the workers. Generally when people are getting mucked about the chain starts with the cross the counter personnel, the workers!
His parting shot to the Unison rep about compulsory redundancies facing the workers is actually quite funny because earlier he stated that the education department is over-staffed and has more than hinted that an incoming SNP Council would have to address the problem.
By making people either compulsory redundant or voluntary redundant!
I think Alex Neil has made the best possible case for the Labour Party but he should really be making the case for the Scottish National Party.
Since he is a government minister!
And I can’t see how saying vote SNP get made compulsory redundant or voluntary redundant wins hearts and minds.
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University