‘Name debtors’, urges South Tyneside councillor

CALL ... Coun George Elsom.
CALL ... Coun George Elsom.

SENIOR councillors will be asked to write off debts owed to South Tyneside Council which are considered “irrecoverable” when they meet later this week.

But neither the amount owed in unpaid council tax, rents and business rates, or the identity of the debtors, are to be revealed.

The council’s decision-making cabinet is to meet “behind closed doors” as it is considered to be “exempt” information.

No members of the public or press wil be allowed in to the debate at South Shields Town Hall on Wednesday.

It is known that at the end of the 2011/12 financial year, the council wrote off £530,242 to meet a legal requirement to balance its books by the end of that financial year.

Today, Coun George Elsom, opposition leader and independent representative for Cleadon Park, called for the debtors to be “named and shamed”. He said: “This is council tax payers’ money, it is not the cabinet’s money, and the public have a right to know who owes this money, why they owe the money and what the sums are.

“If we are an open council, and there’s a great deal said about consulting with the public, they have a right to such information.

“This could be debt owed by businesses that go into liquidation and then relaunch under a slightly different name and build up debts again.”

Coun Elsom added: “People who refuse to pay their business rates and individuals who run up huge council tax and rent arrears should be named and shamed. I can understand commercial confidentiality being used when there is a tender at stake, but not when people simply refuse to pay their bills.”

Coun Elsom said other exemptions should include people who run up bills due to domestic circumstances and those struggling because of the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’.

“But people who simply refuse to pay should be identified,” he 

A council spokesman said the meeting was being held in private as the report contains “sensitive financial information exempt from disclosure under the Local Government Act 1972”.

The information is exempt as its disclosure could cause “significant harm to commercial interests of persons and businesses named”.

The council says writing-off debt was a “last resort” and it made use of a many recovery actions beforehand.

The debt write-off comes with the authority having made £100m of cutbacks since 2010.

The cabinet is to meet from 4pm on Wednesday.