Tomorrow morning Radio Cornwall will be running a story on council tax and, specifically, the delay I had in paying mine.
I haven't talked about it before now because I view a person's private financial matters as being personal - just as the rest of their private life should be. However, I understand that others, including Radio Cornwall, see it as an issue worthy of coverage when a councillor is late paying their council tax.
The law is pretty clear. A councillor is disqualified from voting on budget issues if he or she is two or more months behind on their council tax payments. I have never fallen foul of that rule. However between budget votes I did fall behind on a number of occasions to the extent that legal action was taken against me and I deeply regret that this was the case. My excuse, such as it is, is that since I was elected in 2009 I have lived for the most part on my councillor allowance of £12,100 per year and I put other bills before council tax. But it is wrong to fall behind and I apologise to the people who I represent for letting them down in this way. I can assure anyone who cares that I have paid my full council tax for the current year and won't fall behind again.
What this episode has done, however, is shown me how many people have difficulty paying their council tax. For some (like me) it is a foolish mistake. For others though, the bills are just too much to cope with in the current climate. As a council, I think there is more we could be doing to ensure that those in genuine hardship are helped to get any support and benefits to which they might be entitled. The schemes are there, but we sometimes fail to make people aware of them. Cornwall Council needs to raise tax to provide crucial services, but we have to ensure that families do not suffer disproportionate hardship as a result.
I know I'm one of the more overtly political of the elected members at county hall and some will no doubt see my news as just deserts. If that's the case, then so be it. I'll continue to work as hard as possible for the people who showed their trust in me by giving me this position and I won't be letting up in my work for them. But whilst my campaigning may occasionally be hard, I promise I'll never resort to attacks on a person's personal circumstances or private behaviour. There are different views as to what is best for Cornwall and there should be a passionate debate. But that debate should not descend to attacks on the private lives of your opponents.