How Argyll & Bute Works: the last post of 2015

Readers will recall the story of how Cllr Walsh arranged for Dunoon Community Council to get free use of the Queen’s Hall early this year for a meeting about the proposed windfarm. The previous post is here with updates here and here.

Mr Hendry did eventually get back to me on the report about the let of the Queen’s Hall but he is maintaining his position which is that the report must remain secret. I am baffled as to why this should be the case. I had said to him that I did not think he could stop me sending the report to Audit Scotland and subsequently I did send it to them. I also told Mr Hendry I had done this. He is maintaining his position on this too by reminding me of the Code of Conduct. This may or may not be a precursor to another complaint against me. The email correspondence to and from Mr Hendry is pasted below.

From: Breslin, Michael Sent: 29 November 2015 09:33 To: Hendry, Douglas Cc: Marshall, Bruce Subject: RE: Monitoring Officer Issue [OFFICIAL] [OFFICIAL-SENSITIVE]

You have made no comment on our response to your report Mr Hendry. Will you now do so please?

Will you also accept that I can make this public?

Will you now investigate the way in which the works at Innellan War Memorial were funded, works that were not on any list I am aware of and works that never came to the area committee?

I can confirm to you that Audit Scotland has this report and our complaint. They are also aware of your position that you would not allow me to provide them with it but that I took the view you had no right to stop me sending it to them. I have not sent it on to the Standards Commissioner but I have told them what your position is on this. I reserve the right to send it to them though, hence the 2nd question above.

I can also tell you that this has opened the proverbial can of worms. I was told by a very well respected member of the community that Cllr Walsh has arranged for the payment of other lets for a couple of groups and that in one case he arranged for postal costs to also be met by putting that group’s mail via the council franking machines. I recall some time ago getting one such envelope myself but assumed any cost was being refunded to the council. You will know I am sure of the FOI submitted on this topic.

I suspect that these costs, which the groups concerned should have met, were all coded in the same manner as the Queen’s Hall let, ie to councillors’ costs.

Thank you

The reply was as follows:

From: Ferguson, Fiona Sent: 11 December 2015 17:25 To: Breslin, Michael Cc: Marshall, Bruce; Loudon, Sally Subject: FW: Monitoring Officer Issue [OFFICIAL] [OFFICIAL-SENSITIVE]

Classification: OFFICIAL-SENSITIVE

Councillor Breslin

I refer to your email of 29th November and would respond to the points you make as follows.

I remain satisfied that my report dealt with this properly and in accordance with Council procedures. I am not sure what further could be gained by me giving a view on your response.

I indicated to you when I issued the report to you that it was confidential and that remains my position. I note that despite my advice you have sent the report to Audit Scotland and I would therefore draw your attention to the following sections of the National Code of Conduct for Councillors  namely sections  3.14 and 3.15, which I am sure you are familiar with. It is my view, informed by external legal advice, that  Members owe a duty of confidentiality to the Council and would be in breach of their duties under the Code if they were to disclose confidential Council documents (like the report) to other parties.

In addition I would advise you that the  Council has  obligations under the Data Protection Act. I am of the view that even the redacted report contains personal data relating to  both councillors and officers, and once again on advice, I do not believe that it would be possible to further redact it to address these issues, without making it meaningless. Therefore there are requirements under that legislation that would further justify the requirement that it be kept confidential.

I am unable to comment on the accuracy or otherwise of your statements in respect of the  other matters you allude to at this time other than to confirm that I am aware of an FOI request which appears to have some connection with the matters you raise.

In light of the contents of your email, which prompted this reply, I have copied this response to the Chief Executive to make her aware of the position.

Regards

Douglas Hendry

Executive Director – Customer Services

It remains to be seen what the chief executive decides to do about this but I find it astonishing that any official can try to stop an elected member passing information to Audit Scotland. If this results in another complaint against me then I think we really do have a serious issue on our hands. It could mean, for example, that if I discovered a major fraud in the council, I could be breaching the Code of Conduct by passing this information on to either Audit Scotland and/or the police.

What do readers think? Please comment on this.

There will be more on this in the next few days.

Author: Michael Breslin

I am no longer a councillor with Argyll & Bute Council but given the appalling treatment I got from the senior officers and a few elected members, I plan to continue keeping an eye on what the council is doing.

4 thoughts on “How Argyll & Bute Works: the last post of 2015”

  1. Spot on Michael, just as well you are doing what you are doing. One wonders if anyone; at ABDC has read Audit Scotland’s 2015 report which is scathing, so far as a “independent body can be” ,

    http://www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/uploads/docs/report/2015/bv_151217_argyll_bute.pdf

    73.
    The council considers a relatively high proportion of its business in private. For example, in 18 full council and Policy and Resources Committee meetings between July 2014 and July 2015, about 14 per cent of reports were considered in private. Only three councils had a higher percentage of private reports. More than a third of all councils considered less than five per cent of reports in private. When the council recently reviewed its papers over the past year, it concluded that it was satisfied that the correct legal clause had been applied in each case.
    74.
    All councils need to manage sensitive information, including contractual and personal information, responsibly and in line with legal requirements. However, most other councils consider more of this information in public than Argyll and Bute does. Some provide details of bidders for properties or contracts and others provide the amounts offered and the reasons for accepting or rejecting bids.
    75.
    The council needs to consider more carefully the high level of local interest in its business and the frequency and nature of the challenges it receives about its apparent reluctance to operate openly. It should look to become a model of transparency, learning from others that demonstrate the greatest degree of openness in conducting their business. Where it does need to consider issues in private, it can report much more information about issues debated and the outcomes to the public. This could include details of to whom something was sold, the selling price or to whom a contract was awarded. By operating more openly it will help build greater trust with its communities

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  2. Yet another example Michael of the culture of secrecy and deception that is rife within the upper echelons of our much discredited Council.
    Keep up the good work in exposing them for what they are. Why Audit Scotland continue to turn a blind eye to such conduct baffles me.

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  3. Dear Michael, A Guid New Year to you and yours, and more strength to your elbow. I may be a bit dim with regard to Council procedures, but I would have thought that in a normal committee, it is the committee which determines what it regards as confidential, not an officer, although they could offer advice and opinion, but not binding rulings. YfS, Dave Bell.

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