THE Provost of one of Scotland’s most affluent areas confronted a voter in the street after he dared to question her expenses.
Sheena Richardson, the head of East Lothian Council, is accused of stopping Charles Ingle in the street and subjecting him to a furious, finger-wagging, 15-minute rant.
In front of astonished passers-by in the normally sedate Royal Burgh of Haddington, Councillor Richardson is said to have stormed:
“You have no right to receive this information. “
Ingle has, in fact, now received the information, which shows 23,000 was spent in the past four years on Richardson’s official transport and clothing.
East Lothian Council has also apologised to Ingle, 62, for the decision of an official to inform Richardson that questions were being asked about her expenses.
And freedom of information campaigners have strongly criticised Richardson for confronting Ingle and challenging his right to receive details of her expenses.
Ingle put in a Freedom of Information request after officials refused to put in a ramp at his 80-year-old mother’s council house.
The former independent councillor said:
“My mum’s elderly, can’t walk very well and needs a mobility scooter.
“People like Sheena Richardson supported officials in saying this was not a priority and the request was refused. The Provost can get a clothing allowance of 3,000 a year, but my mum can’t get a ramp. “
Ingle was confronted by Liberal Democrat Richardson last month, just days after putting in his FoI request.
“The provost lives about 100 yards round the corner from me in Haddington.
“She was walking up the close with her Sunday papers and I was walking down the road with my papers. “
Richardson spotted Ingle and marched up to him.
“She started straight away. Her manner was all wrong and she was raising her voice,’ said Ingle.
“She was wagging her finger. It was quite amazing. Here’s her standing there, Mrs Doubtfire, and me quite a big guy.
“I don’t know why you feel that you have to be pursuing me with regards to my clothing allowance.”
“How do you know I have done that’? She said:
“There was a note put on my desk. It’s totally out of order that you should be doing this.” “
“The more I responded to it the more she got agitated. Five or six people walked by us in that time. She must have been there for about 15 minutes.
“If I had been a wee frail old lady and asked for this information her behaviour might have been intimidating. “
Mr Ingle said he has referred the matter to the Standards Commission for Scotland, the body which regulates councillors.
“She should not have been accosting me in the street and questioning my right to seek information through the Freedom of Information Act.
“This is not about me in a sense. It’s about the general public. They should feel safe when they ask for information that they are doing it in confidence. “
Council chief executive Alan Blackie has written a letter of apology to Ingle.
He said in the letter:
“I agree that this should not have happened. Without carrying out a full investigation, I cannot say exactly how the Provost became aware of your request, but I do apologise for the fact that this happened.
“I have taken steps to ensure that, when asking for information from the council officers, the Freedom of Information team will, from now on, remove the name of the person who has made the request. “
Katherine Gundersen, of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said:
“It’s not appropriate for someone senior from a public authority to approach anyone who has made an FOI in a confrontational manner. My view is that people have an entitlement to be able to make an FOI request without their identity being disclosed. “
The Taxpayers’ Alliance also slammed the behaviour of the Provost. Campaign director Emma Boon said:
“I think it’s very unprofessional. It’s unacceptable. Freedom of information allows members of the public – taxpayers – to ask where their money is going.
“It is right that this information is given. It is completely unacceptable that a Lady Provost has taken it upon herself to go up to him. People have a right to make requests without the fear of reprisals afterwards. “
The FoI shows that it cost more than 20,000 to run the Lady Provost’s limousine between 2007 and 2010. The cost included 11,600 on overtime for chauffeurs.
Despite an annual allowance of 3,000, Richardon spent 2550 on clothes for her duties over the past four years.
A spokeswoman for East Lothian Council said no disciplinary action would be taken against the Lady Provost.
“It’s a personal issue between the two of them. The Provost was not on council business at the time.
“The chief executive did send an apology. That was if any feelings had been hurt. From our point of view there has not been any wrong-doing. The FOI’s aren’t done in an anonymous way. “
Richardson, who has three grown-up children and is the widow of a bank manager, was not available for comment.