Covered up council offices; Chief Executive Joyce White; Cllr Jim Bollan and George Black who has waited four years for the audit report to be revealed.

By Bill Heaney

Champagne tastes, Irn Bru wages. Well, not quite, but even senior officers of West Dunbartonshire Council – they each earn around £100,000 a year – would hardly able to afford the lifestyle three of them and their partners enjoyed when they embarked on days out with a construction firm boss.

Councillor Jim Bollan had a whole folder full of receipts for posh restaurants, luxury hotels and a round of golf that is said to have cost £650.

Fine Spanish wine, Rioja Castillo at £75 a bottle is not to be found on the shelves of ASDA or Morrisons in St James’s Retail Park.

T-bone steaks at £57.90 are not an everyday snack in downtown Balloch restaurants, and they are certainly not washed down with bottles of Laurent Perrier Brut at £59.95.

The Council suits appear to be partial to that particular tipple since it features on more than one receipt (the originals are in the hands of Police Scotland).

And then there’s sea bass, a fashionable fish dish which became a favourite with them – in single and double portions.

Ex-councillor George Black from Milton was first to get his hands on them from a whistle-blower who was disgusted with what was going on.

But when he raised the matter in the Council, Cllr Black was painted as a maverick and eccentric with strange ideas and a mission to rock the boat.

He was reported for his language, behaviour and persistence to the Standards Commission by the Council management team.

This must have cost a lot of money since I went along to one of these hearings in a posh hotel as Mr Black’s witness and told them the persons who reported him should get out more.

Worse, much worse, could be heard in school playgrounds and the councillor had been elected and was perfectly entitled to challenge robustly decisions and situations he did not agree with.

He said this week: “There are families in West Dunbartonshire who have weekly budgets which are less than these individual sums detailed on this information

“The total on these receipts vary but £150 to £250 which seems the norm for these outings.  Some are over £400 with one for a golf outing at over £600.00.”

Cllr Bollan revealed at the monthly meeting of the Council on Thursday that there were officials who took their partners along to enjoy the hospitality.

Mr Black said: “Only a public inquiry can dispel the doubts which any reasonable person must have when they have the full list of allegations.

“These were given to me and resulted in this cover up by people who are employed to look after our services.”

He said there were still – despite the foot-dragging internal inquiry by the council’s own auditors – many questions to be asked.

Nearly four years had passed since the whistle-blower wrote to the Council and, in a fairly detailed five-page letter, outlined the main allegations of fraud and corruption within the council.

Mr Black said the letter was explicit and cited names of senior officers and the positions they held.

He added: “I can state categorically as an elected member at that time with perfect attendance at the audit performance review committee, where whistle-blowing allegations are reported, that the issue was never raised there.

“I have since trawled and interrogated the minutes of this committee as well as questioning the head of internal audit and wish to confirm emphatically that the allegations were never reported to elected members.”

More than a year later, in November 2016, the whistle-blower wrote to him and informed him that he had followed up his original letter to the council with a phone call to the head of internal audit in July of 2016.

He added: “I met the whistle-blower and Colin McDougall, the head of internal audit, and a female colleague met with my whistle-blower.

“At this meeting, about 40 receipts were provided with the details of the expensive meals, golf outings and other hospitality.

“The auditor was originally supplied with photo copies of the receipts and the originals retained by the whistle-blower, who even then feared a cover up as he knew the named officers and knew of personal friendships, which went to the highest level.

“There was a further meeting in the Brewers Fayre [a Milton roadside restaurant] about a month later where again requests for the original receipts were made and this time granted as the whistle-blower was told that an internal investigation was underway and that the police had been informed.

“The whistle-blower heard nothing more from the auditor and in November of 2016 contacted me.

“I then trawled committee minutes to ensure that i had not missed a report and satisfied myself that no report to elected members had been made.”

Mr Black said he was never given sight of any report in relation to this matter – “I had no opportunity to scrutinise this one because it was never tabled.

“The question on everyone’s lips is surely this: Why was no elected member informed that this complaint had been made, and why was the investigation not reported through the appropriate committee.”

He added that Cllr Martin Rooney was leader of the Labour-controlled Council at the time “and was blissfully unaware of this serious matter”.

Mr Black said: “Martin in all fairness is also an effective scrutineer but was never made aware of the allegations, the conspiracy of silence and concealment was there from the start.

“Jonathan McColl was leader of the opposition and chaired audit performance and review but he too was blissfully unaware of the complaint.

“As no elected member was advised of this complaint, it proves to me beyond all reasonable doubt that it was always earmarked for concealment.”

The former councillor, who was defeated in the latest local government elections, claims “these facts throw up myriad other questions”.

Why were the officials allegedly involved – they claimed they chipped in their share of the hospitality bills – not suspended, as had happened in relation to similar but less serious matters previously?

If, as the Chief Executive Joyce White had claimed at Thursday’s meeting, the internal auditor was not senior enough to be present to answer members’ questions, to whom did he report before deciding what level of emphasis was required in this matter?

Why has it taken four years to come to elected members with the report under discussion?

This was approaching the same time scale as the long-running Chiltern Inquiry into the then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s role in the Iraq War and was similarly perceived as being flawed

Why did the police have no knowledge of this matter until they were informed of the situation by Cllr Bollan and myself, asked Mr Black.

He added: “This has now dragged on since 2015 and I would certainly not be giving any  awards to any member of this corporate management team unless it was for not being able to run a menage.

“The police would not go to the Procurator Fiscal with this as the whistle-blower was not prepared to give evidence in court.”

Additional reports are now being prepared by Audit Scotland and the Scottish Government.

  • Look out tomorrow for a full transcript of the allegations made by Cllr Jim Bollan at Thursday’s full meeting of West Dunbartonshire Council.

One comment

  1. I worked in Procurement for many years , and cannot understand why the original receipts would ever need to be handed over.

    The investigator simply has to contact any of the issuers of the reciepts using copies and that way also obtain verified copies from the original source that can then confirm them to be a true copy, and both then may be compared to see if any changes have been made after the fact .

    I would never hand over originals as there are risks that they can easily get lost in large organisations.

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