Steerpike

Is this the worst council leader in Britain?

Is this the worst council leader in Britain?
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Glasgow: the second city of the Empire, onetime shipbuilding capital of the world, home of Adam Smith, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and John Logie Baird. But for a great metropolis which gave us television, ultrasound and Alex Ferguson's football genius, the city's leadership has all too often failed to live up to its illustrious past. 

The council's current leader Susan Aitken is a perfect case in point. Swept to power in 2017 on the SNP tidal wave that engulfed Labour's last bastions, Aitken's four-year reign has been characterised by arrogance, incompetence and mismanagement. Such follies were perfectly encapsulated last month by the city's waste crisis in the wake of bin collection cuts and bulk uplift charges, which left giant dead rats floating in bins and rubbish piling high in streets.

After GMB general secretary Gary Smith warned that Glasgow is 'crumbling' and 'filthy' ahead of November's COP26 summit, Aitken likened such criticisms of Glasgow's dirty streets to the 'far right'. Asked about whether she was 'embarrassed' by the state of her city she replied:

I'm not embarrassed, I'm more angered people are using that kind of language for political purposes. There's a real echo of the language that some far-right organisations have used about Govanhill for a long time. It's the same kind of words. It's a scapegoating and a targeting of Glasgow.

Unsurprisingly Smith was not too pleased about being compared to fascistic goons and responded by calling the embattled leader 'desperate and disgraceful.' But it's not just on bins where Aitken has failed: cuts mean the city's libraries have remained closed since March 2020 with nine still awaiting a reopening date owing to the city's dire finances – despite her party leader's professed love of reading and books.

Still, at least the council leader has helped publishing in one regard: she's never out of the newspaper headlines. Shortly after being elected, she rubbished figures which showed that the bill to settle claims made by thousands of low-paid women against Glasgow City Council could be between £500m and £1bn, saying the figures were 'plucked out of thin air' – prompting an angry rebuke by the group's lawyer. That settlement did, err, end up north of £500 million despite Aitken's protestations.

This was followed by her shenanigans over Rangers football club and questions about almost £7,000 of taxis for more than 500 trips. While Aitken was advised by council bosses to take such trips after a woman was convicted of stalking her, eyebrows were raised by trips on expenses to campaign for the SNP in a by-election and attend a Paul Simon concert.

Then there was 'shoegate' – the row over Glasgow Lord Provost Eva Bolander's claims for more than £8,000 spending on clothes and beauty products including £1,150 for 23 pairs of shoes. Aitken's efforts to save her colleague's job proved to be futile after Bolander resigned after three weeks of damning headlines. 

A month later came the news that Aitken did not declare an interest in a scheme which saw her husband’s company receive a council property for a rent of £1 a year. This of course was just two years after she had pledged to bring 'transparency' to democracy in Glasgow and claimed decision-making in the previous Labour administration was 'not made so much as stitched up. Three of her councillors – Elspeth Kerr, Glenn Elder and Russell Robertson – have resigned from her group in recent years amid allegations of bullying and harassment from her office.

Steerpike wonders how Aitken intends to answer questions about such issues when she's up for re-election next May. They can't all be 'far right' criticisms... can they?

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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