Special meeting to debate audit report on allegations against council officials
Cllr Jim Bollan, CEO Joyce White, Provost William Hendrie and Council leader Jonathan McColl.
By Bill Heaney
Councillor Jim Bollan met with detectives yesterday for a “productive” discussion on the latest developments in the graft and corruption allegations currently engulfing West Dunbartonshire Council.
The Community Party councillor for Alexandria and Renton told The Democrat: “The meeting was productive. The police continue to assess the additional information they have received, and I will be meeting them again soon.”
A special Council meeting called to discuss the Audit Scotland report into the allegations of fraud and corruption involving three council officers will take place on May 14 at 10am in Council’s £15 million offices at the old Burgh Hall in Church Street Dumbarton.
Police Scotland have confirmed they are making extensive inquiries into additional information in regard to the allegations.
They had earlier said their inquiry had been placed on the back burner after the whistle-blower who had passed the initial information to Cllr Bollan and Cllr George Black, an independent member representing Milton and Bowling, told them he was not prepared to give evidence in court.
He said there were personal reasons for this.
However, Cllr Bollan raised the matter again in Council and pressed on with his insistence that the investigation should continue.
This was despite warnings from Chief Executive Joyce White and Council legal adviser Peter Hessett that the councillor was over-stepping the mark and could find himself in breach of protocol.
She said the subject was “challenging” for the Council management and Cllr Bollan’s references to “fingers in till” and other colourful remarks were unhelpful.
The matter, she said, had now been referred to Audit Scotland after a report from the internal auditor in which page after page of detail had been redacted (blanked out).
When that reviewed report was completed Provost William Hendrie turned down a request from Cllr Bollan to place another motion before a subsequent meeting.
A public outcry ensued and, earlier this week, it was revealed that the police were back on the case, which involves claims that council officials were treated to lavish hospitality involving champagne, monkfish, expensive bottles of Spanish wine and T-bone steak dinners in top restaurants.
And treated to golf and après golf outings at a luxury hotel complex on Loch Lomondside.
These same council officers were said to have been in charge of a regularly ignored procurement process which handed out contracts valued at more than £9 million to the contractor who is alleged to have done the entertaining.
However, both the contractor and the council officers are denying that they did anything wrong and that the bills for the entertainment, which involved wives and partners, was shared and that they all paid individually.
This appears to have been accepted by the council’s own internal auditors who found “no basis” for action in their report which has been updated and sent to public services finance watchdog Audit Scotland.
Cllr Bollan’s position now is that this “can’t be allowed to be swept under the carpet and these officers must be properly held to account”.
He says the Council has failed in its duty to do this.
SNP council leader, Jonathan McColl, refuses to discuss the matter with The Democrat, whose reporter has been locked out of one meeting in Clydebank and threatened with being thrown out of a meeting in Dumbarton.
Democrat editor Bill Heaney said: “We have been boycotted and banned by the SNP administration and the Communications Officer, who represents the Chief Executive.
“If the Council has nothing to hide then it has nothing to fear from their meetings being held up to public scrutiny by the press and public.
“They have chosen to abandon custom and practice in dealings between public bodies and the media.
“Their recent actions reflect appallingly on the Council – every member of the Council, who is prepared to sit back and accept this – and their attitude to freedom of the press in this country.
“If this is the SNP in action before independence, Lord help us all if they ever achieve it.”
Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie welcomed the scrutiny, saying: “It is right that the fraud allegations at the council are being investigated by Police Scotland and Audit Scotland. I hope the investigations will provide answers and ensure that the issue is fully dealt with.”
The way to deal with awkward questions or even unfounded allegations is to bring them into the open so that everyone can see that the allegations are completely groundless.
If you work in Procurement processes ,( in a professionally run department) you will always be bound by a strict Procurement ethics policy , officers and suppliers should always abide by the council’s ethics policy , and whether any undue influence is proven or not , failure to follow the ethics policy is wrongdoing in itself, irrespective of any other findings .
It would be heloful to read the council’s Ethics policy , and then we can all decide for ourselves if we believe the policy has been breached.
Or the opposite. While it is possible there was no criminality involved, there is no question that it was unacceptable and immoral for this association with clients of the Council to be going on in this area where austerity is frequently preached but obviously not practised by the people with power.