A Western Isles councillor who recently flew off on an expenses-paid ‘fact-finding mission’ to the Faroe Islands is still paying off a debt of more than £14,000 in council tax – which has been on the books for at least two years.
Iain Archie MacNeil, who was elected to represent the Barra, Vatersay, Eriskay and South Uist ward in May 2017, headed up a five-strong delegation – four councillors and an HIE representative - who recently spent four days in the Faroes to inspect its tunnels and bridge-link infrastructure and superior broadband connectivity.
Expenses for the Councillors’ trip will be paid for by the tax-payer, but as Councillor MacNeil still owes unpaid tax to the council, this has raised eyebrows over the ethics of his involvement in the Faroes visit.
The Code of Conduct for councillors details that there is a ‘high expectation on councillors’ and it has a lengthy reference to council tax arrears.
The code says: “The Scottish public has a high expectation of councillors and the way in which they should conduct themselves in undertaking their duties in the Council. You must meet those expectations by ensuring that your conduct is above reproach.
“The law makes specific provision that if a councillor is in two months’ arrears with payment of Council tax that councillor may not participate in certain decisions concerning Council tax issues, in order to preserve public confidence that councillors are taking decisions in the general public interest.
“Whilst you are a member of the community, you are also a representative of that community and of the Council to which you are elected. As there is potential for public perception of abuse of position and poor leadership, you must seek to avoid being in debt to the Council.”
A spokesman for the Comhairle declined to comment on when Cllr. MacNeil’s £14,446 council tax debt dates from, or how much of it is still outstanding, saying that the council did not comment on individual cases, but added that the same rules apply to councillors as any other resident.
The spokesman did clarify that being in council tax arrears does not prevent people from standing for the council and that while councillors in tax arrears are banned from voting on tax issues, they are not prevented from involvement in other areas of council business.
In response to questions about Cllr. MacNeil’s involvement in the Faroes visit while he still owes money to the local authority, the spokesman explained: “This was part of Councillors’ duties.
“Councillor MacNeil is the Chair of the Uist Economic Task Force and it was agreed that it would be worthwhile to investigate the many economic development successes of the Faroes in areas such as Broadband, Telecommunications and Infrastructure.”
Cllr. MacNeil’s local authority salary is around £16,900 a year. On his Comhairle ‘Register of Interests’ page under ‘Renumeration’ it is detailed that he is also the Director of Uist Enterprise.
Councillor MacNeil was contacted in regards to this story but was unavailable for comment.