Scottish Political


SCOTTISH Office Minister Mr Ian Lang has been asked by a leading

Conservative to investigate ''bureaucratic bungling'' that has caused

hundreds of thousands of people in Strathclyde to be denied poll tax


Kyle and Carrick district councillor Mr Struan Stevenson, prospective

parliamentary candidate for Edinburgh South, claimed that an 80-year-old

Ayrshire widow had her entire pension taken by regional council poll tax

officials in Girvan, leaving her penniless.

He said: ''This is only one of hundreds of heartbreak cases that have

been caused because of a massive inability to cope. I want to know the

exact extent of this and the reasons for it.''

Both the region's community charge and finance department officials

admitted there had been problems but claimed most deadlines were being

met and that their departments were on top of the situation. The finance

department was striving to cope with a flood of late rebate claims.

Mr Stevenson, who farms at Ballantrae, said: ''I am appalled at the

bureaucratic bungling by Strathclyde Regional Council playing politics

instead of gearing up for the major impact of the legislation and being

able to deal effectively with it.

''It is their political opposition that has brought about much

heartbreak to people in Strathclyde especially the elderly, infirm, and

weakest members of the community. They are the suffering victims of

Labour's campaign of obstruction.''

Mr Stevenson said he had a bulging mailbag of complaints from people

who had not received due rebates and he felt that because the finance

department for a variety of reasons, including obstructive tactics by

Labour controlled district councils, had failed to cope they had invited

people to make second applications, doubling the workload.

He added: ''In the case of the widow she journeyed from a small

village to the payments office in Girvan with a voucher book that stated

she owed the full amount. It was obvious that on the State pension,

living in a council house and with no savings whatever she qualified for

full rebate.

''Yet they took her entire pension in payment leaving her without a

penny and to find her own way home. They told her it would be 'resolved

in due course.' That is scandalous and requires an answer.

''I have dealt with other cases and from what I gather from other

councillors it is replicated in thousands of instances throughout the

region. The confusion seems to be out of control.''

Mr Ian Henley, deputy director of finance for Strathclyde, said he was

satisfied that his department had coped ''reasonably well'' in the face

of massive demands.

He said: ''I would not suggest that the exercise has gone off without

a flaw and we are still having difficulty. The volumes of work came as a

shock to the printers so the vouchers were late going out but they are

going out now. By the end of June it should be resolved.

''I must say that no-one in this department is blase about the

situation and many people are working long hours.''

There was confusion in areas where district authorities had refused to

act as agents and people faced going to their district council for rent

rebates and the regional council for community charge rebates.

He said: ''This means that we start from a base that is confusing to

the general public.''

He was ''sick and tired'' of allegations of being late with the

rebates because the fact was that a mailing of all 1,800,000 people had

brought a response of less than a third that anticipated. This had led

to a second mailing and it was when people saw the gross charge they

responded, many duplicating previous forms, with a further 140,000

applying and 3500 coming in each day.

He said: ''We had expected trouble with 200,000 people and that is the

figure we have. I feel that we have done exceptionally well in many ways

in handling with the volume we faced in the time scale involved. The

public may be frustrated in some instances but we will get answers to

them as quickly as possible.''

Mr Jack Wood, community charge assessor for Strathclyde, said there

was a backlog of work but that had been anticipated. He added: ''So far

all deadlines have been met.''

They had in effect a rolling register of poll tax payers which was

being kept up to date but would show a 40% change over the year because

of death, change of residence and people reaching the age of 18. Added

to that would be statutory regulations, students and DSS claimants.

Mr Wood said his department had fulfilled its obligations on

registration and the matter of rebates and voucher books lay with the

finance department.

Meanwhile the Government is free to resume the #1m distribution of its

controversial poll tax leaflets to 21 million homes following

yesterday's decision by the London Borough of Greenwich not to appeal a

High Court ruling that publication was not in breach of the law.

And the Labour-controlled council last night apologised

''unreservedly'' for mistakenly telling ratepayers they would be

deprived of their votes if they failed to pay the new charge. The

council said the error, which appeared in its monthly magazine

circulated at ratepayers' expense, would be corrected in the June