From the Glasgow Herald comes this dispatch from the poll tax rebellion:
Collection chaos in Lothian
76,000 face poll tax warrants
By Frances Horsburgh, Local Government Correspondent
Scotland’s second largest local authority, Lothian region, is this week issuing 76,756 summary warrants over non payment of the poll tax.
These higher than expected figures represent 12.8% of the 600,000 people on the register. This is the first batch of Lothian warrants which does not include the 160,000 people entitled to rebates.
Those named on the warrants who will now be pursued by sheriff’s officers over their total debt to the region of £25.5m are three months or more in arrears with their poll tax payments.
While Lothian’s Labour leaders described poll tax collection as “an administrative nightmare” of the Government’s own making, Opposition Tories attacked some members of the Labour group for “encouraging” non payment by their example. There was all party agreement that the level of non payment was much more severe than expected.
However, the Lothian Federation of Anti Poll Tax Groups said it was “ecstatic” at the level of non payment.
After hearing the figures, a meeting of the region’s finance committee eventually passed a Labour motion by seven votes to four stressing that Opposition parties had been warning the Government for the last three years that collection of the poll tax would be an administrative nightmare and non payment levels would be high.
Lothian’s deputy finance chairman, Councilor David Begg, told the committee it was important to distinguish between summary warrants and warrant sales. The Labour group still hoped there would be no warrant sales in Lothian over poll tax non payment. There were a large number of people in the new totals who could not afford to pay.
He claimed the Government’s chickens were coming home to roost as collection continued to run into difficulties and he accused Tory Ministers of making poll tax policy “on the hoof”.
Both Tory finance spokesman Councillor James Gilchrist and Tory Group leader Councillor Brian Meek recalled that a number of Lothian Labour councillors had declared they would not pay the tax and they accused them of encouraging others to follow suit.
Councillor Meek claimed that the level of non payment meant council services, staff wages, and essential spending were under threat because of the shortfall in income being received.
Councillor Gilchrist also attacked the recent warning by the Scottish clearing banks that they would not be able to handle hundreds of thousands of arrestments of accounts. It was hard to take advice from people who had thrown away billions of pounds in Third World debts, he said.
Councillor Begg said it was the law of the land that the banks had to carry out searches of people’s accounts.
Lothian region previously sent out almost 100,000 final notices warning people they had forfeited their right to pay by instalment. Those named on the warrants have not paid the sum owing or have not contacted the council to make an arrangement to pay.
After the meeting Mr Andy Clachers, vice chairman of the Federation of Lothian Anti-Poll Tax Groups, said he was “ecstatic” about the non payment figures. They had seen the power of the people sweep away governments within Eastern Europe and were now seeing the power of the people in Scotland pushing the poll tax “to the brink of collapse”, he claimed.
Strathclyde region expects to issue summary warrants “in the not too distant future”, according to a finance spokesman . The council is believed to have delayed applying for warrants while officials try to check which non payers will qualify for transitional relief under the Government’s new scheme. If the warrants are not issued in the next couple of weeks it is believed a political decision could be taken to wait until after Christmas.
Strathclyde issued 236,000 final notices at the end of which represented 16.4% of those due to pay the poll tax.
Grampian region was the first to issue summary warrants earlier this month. The total of 17,300 represented about 5% of those due to pay.
Fife region obtained 12,616 warrants two weeks ago representing 4.5% and in the Borders 3,600 warrants were issued last week, also representing 4.5%. Officials in the Borders are “optimistic” about the progress of collection.
Dumfries and Galloway region obtained summary warrants last week and they were due to reach defaulters morning. It is issuing 3000 warrants, which represents approximately 3% of those due to pay.
Highland region’s finance committtee has decided to hold off pursuing summary warrants in the meantime.
A spokeswoman for Central region said it had issued 9649 final reminders, which represented 5% of those due to pay, but the council has not yet gone to court for summary warrants.
Tayside region has still to send out final warnings. “We are not at the stage of issuing summary warrants as our final notices will not go out until next week,” said a spokeswoman.
Those who are named on the warrants must pay the full amount they owe in addition to a 10% surcharge. If they do not pay they will face debt recovery procedures which include arrestment of bank accounts and wages or possibly ultimately a poinding and warrant sale.
Meanwhile, Argyll and Bute District Council announced it was seeking an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State over a £736,000 reduction in its Government grant which council officials say would result in an increasae of 50% or £21 a head in the district poll tax on a standstill budget.
Councillor Robert Reid, chairman of the policy and resources committee, said: “I am utterly horrified at the situation. We do not run an extravagant authority and the numbers feel that the present method of calculating grant places a disproportionately high burden on the people of Argyll and Bute.”
Finance officials explained that it would not be accurate to compare the present position on non-payment of the poll tax with rates arrears. This was because under the previous system a large percentage of people paid their rates with their council house rent, so the regional council never had to take action against them for rates arrears.
If they fell into arrears with either rates or rent they were pursued by the district council. The officials explained that about 200,000 of the 600,000 now due to pay the poll tax in Lothian fell into this category and paid rates and rents to the relevant district council
A confrontation between officials and anti-poll tax protesters supporting a Labour Euro-MP facing debt recovery measures was averted . Demonstrators threatened to form a human blockade outside the home at Irvine of Mr Alex Smith, MEP for Scotland South, who has refused to pay a £50 penalty imposed for not registering for the community charge.
However, before the protesters arrived, two sheriff’s officers, who called at Mr Smith’s home, left without trying to force entry after he refused to let them in.