It’s a lock out. Then Council refuses to accept blanked out corruption report
Council offices covered up; the coat of arms; Bailie Agnew; Cllr Bollan; George Black; Cllr McColl and Joyce White plus Cllr Bollan’s two motions which were unanimously approved by the Council.
SPECIAL REPORT by Bill Heaney
West Dunbartonshire Council’s officials have been exposed for producing and approving for submission to elected representatives a heavily redacted, obscurely worded and overly complicated internal audit report which has now been thrown back in their faces.
This week, it took the courage and determination of just one councillor, Jim Bollan, of the Community Party, to blow the attempted cover-up of details of graft and corruption allegations made against officials.
The Democrat nearly missed the St Valentine’s Day massacre which had Chief Executive Joyce White, red-faced and squirming in her seat as she tried to defend the indefensible in Clydebank Town Hall.
This FREE online newspaper, which is banned and boycotted by the Council and its SNP administration, was locked out of the meeting along with Jackie McMonagle, an observer for the Unite trade union, and an overspill of members of the public who turned up for the meeting.
The public gallery was said to be full and the two seats allocated to the press were occupied. No one else was getting in.
Ex-Provost Douglas McAllister asked for the meeting to be switched to a larger room, but his request was denied.
I sat outside for an hour and a half waiting for a space, but when I stood at the chamber door I was warned by a council officer that if I didn’t move from there I would be escorted from the building.
Finally, two women left the meeting and I got a seat in the public gallery where by that time Jim Bollan was well into his forensic dissection of the cack-handed way this whole issue had been handled.
The Council caused fury in the community with their report on the allegations of corruption and favouritism in the questionable way contracts worth £ millions had been awarded to contractors.
Council officials have been accused of receiving “backhanders in brown envelopes,” expensive meals in posh restaurants golf outings and overnights in luxury Loch Lomondside hotels in return for awarding of lucrative contracts from the local authority
Councillor Bollan, who had lodged two motions for St Valentine’s Day meeting, said he had received a heavily redacted copy of the internal auditor’s report on the matter – “The report is 135 pages long. 87 pages are blank. 34 pages are partially redacted. 14 pages have no words redacted and are the only pages readable.”
He added: “I will be mounting a challenge via the Council’s Legal Department regarding the extreme level of redaction (the deletion of names and other content) which makes the report worthless and provides no information to make an informed judgement on.
“My motion calls for a ‘suitably’ redacted report, not a document which has 90% of its pages redacted.
“It would appear to any reasonable person that the establishment on the Council is determined to cover up this scandal.
“This cannot be allowed to happen. The public has the right to know the facts.”
Remarkably, despite the fact that Cllr Bollan’s motions were on the agenda, its author, Colin McDougall, had not asked to attend the meeting to answer questions on it.
And councillors, including Denis Agnew, who seconded Cllr Bollan’s motions, both of which were carried unanimously, had not been given sight of it until the night before the council met.
Cllr Agnew said the report was so extensively blanked out he couldn’t make head not tail of it.
Mrs White and a Council legal officer defended the redacted report on the grounds that they had to protect the names of the officials who were alleged to have taken the bribes.
But Cllr Bollan said he had done that from the very outset when the matter was first raised by ex-Cllr George Black.
He claimed he had never shared the names of the officers involved with anyone and it was Mrs White who “threw these officials under a bus” when she named the departments involved – Roads and Greenspace – and it immediately became clear who these people were.
Mrs White insisted that the council’s own investigation had been conducted properly and that the report had been sent to a committee in December. There was no cover-up.
There were issues in regard to laid down procedures not being followed and an action plan was developed and implemented to address these, with progress reported to the audit committee – “A subsequent disciplinary process found there was no basis for action to be taken against any employee. Police Scotland also conducted its own investigation, no criminality was established and no action was taken.”
But Cllr Bollan said this was wrong. It had never been established that no criminality was involved. What had happened was that the whistle-blower who passed the information to then Cllr George Black had at the end of the day declined to give evidence in court.
He said there were “very good reasons” why this person was anxious to retain his anonymity and that he had promised him this would not happen during the process.
Mrs White said Audit Scotland had confirmed that they will be reviewing the approach taken by the Council in response to this issue, as part of their routine wider scope audit responsibility.
“This review is currently underway and the scope and time-frame for issuing the report is being developed.”
Given that he has expressed dismay at the way the Council’s own report has been presented, Cllr Bollan will be pressing for sight of the Audit Scotland inquiry findings.
Bailie Agnew said it would be wrong to accept the redacted report. He thought this might lead to a situation where all council officials would be “tarred with the same brush”.
Cllr Danny Lennon agreed – “This will reflect on the integrity of the whole council. It will impact on how we are viewed by the community. We need to be open and transparent in the way we operate.”
When Cllr Jonathan McColl, the SNP council leader, and the SNP Finance spokesperson, Cllr Ian Dickson, agreed that the council’s own audit report had been “excessively redacted” and that more than was required had been blanked out, the Council agreed unanimously to both of Cllr Bollan’s motions and to go back to the drawing board.
Dumbarton and Lomond MSP Jackie Baillie, has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell, and the Accounts Commission to highlight these graft and corruption allegations.
The Labour MSP has asked both the Cabinet Secretary and the Accounts Commission to review the practices of the SNP-run council.
Ms Baillie said: “Councils are responsible for making sure that they spend the public pound wisely. It is clear that some contracts, which were agreed by council officials in the Roads and Greenspace departments, were not tendered properly, and it has been found that in a number of cases, quotes were not properly obtained for these jobs.
“I have now written to Aileen Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, and Caroline Gardner, the Auditor General, to ask whether a review will be carried out to ensure best practice going forward.”
It was revealed during this meeting that other high-spending departments’ accounts and financial transactions have yet to be examined in a similar manner to Greenspace and Roads.
The Democrat revealed exclusively last week that Cllr Bollan had submitted two motions to the council and was asking for the details of the auditor’s report to be made public.
The Renton member asked that no official involved in the inquiry into the matter should be allowed to leave the council’s employment before there was closure.
No one should be allowed to retire with an enhanced commutation package – “a golden parachute”.
The Council’s Communications Department continues to refuse to answer questions from The Democrat.