Councillors must keep silent over £20m contracts ‘disaster’

Depute SNP group leader Tom Johnston
Depute SNP group leader Tom Johnston

Councillors have been warned they must keep quiet about a report into alleged corruption and a £20 million overspend on contracts.

An SNP demand for the immediate publication of the results of an audit was thrown out at a special meeting of North Lanarkshire Council. Labour and Conservative members also blocked a bid to have a report criticising the running of NL Leisure made public.

A call for council leader Jim Logue to step aside while police investigate his activities as NL Leisure chairman was defeated too.

An investigation into council contracts began last year after an anonymous tip off to Councillor Logue shortly after he took up his post as leader.

It found that work on some contracts approved by the authority exceeded that which was agreed. Although the work would have been done anyway, it’s understood that in some cases the excess was charged at a higher rate, pushing up the cost to the council.

The investigation has resulted in a senior council employee being dismissed. Some weeks ago all councillors were given a copy of the audit report, but they were told not to discuss it until a policy and resources committee on September 23. It’s not known whether it will be discussed in public on that date.

That wasn’t good enough for depute SNP group leader Tom Johnston who said: “A shortfall of £20 million is surely something the public has the right to know about.”

Councillor Johnston also questioned the appointment of Conservative councillor Meghan Gallacher as convener of the committee responsible for scrutinising council operations.

He said it had been accepted by the council that job should go to a member of the opposition and before this year’s elections the SNP’s David Stocks was convener.

Given the Tories have been supporting the new minority Labour administration, Councillor Johnston said they can’t be described as opposition.

Councillor Gallacher hit back, saying: “My role has been called into question, but I’m doing a good job.”

Tory colleague Sandy Watson backed her, describing Councillor Gallacher as “meticulous and conscientious”.

However, new SNP councillor Agnes Magowan branded the contracts overspend “an unmitigated disaster which must be sorted”. She added: “If there is a cover-up we’ll never get to the bottom of it and North Lanarkshire will never get the respect it deserves.”

Chief executive Paul Jukes insisted investigative reports are never made public, adding: “Each is different in terms of the legal issues it contains and the personal data it deals with.”

Depute council leader Paul Kelly said Councillor Logue should be praised for having the contracts issue investigated. He said: “As a result the council changed the way it buys services and the investigation led to disciplinary action against a number of employees.

“That demonstrates Jim Logue’s commitment to integrity and probity in public life.

“We are probably the most open and transparent council in Scotland now. We want to lead the charge against corrupt actions. How many local authorities would have received anonymous allegations and done nothing about them?”