I’ve sat on this story for 6 months but the time is right to publish it now. Unfortunately I can only publish it in part, as will be seen later, because the council’s monitoring officer has forbidden me to make public the report he produced on it.
The story starts with Dunoon Community Council deciding to hold a public meeting on the proposed windfarm on the hill above Dunoon and Innellan. This meeting was to be held on 13 March 2015 in the Queen’s Hall Dunoon. The community council had a fairly strong anti-wind farm position, which they had every right to have. The meeting was widely seen as an anti-wind farm meeting and the developer had indicated they would not attend it.
All fine and dandy so far but here is a summary of what happened before and after the meeting:
- I was asked on 17 February to book the Queen’s Hall for the community council.
- I replied the next day saying that if there was an assumption that by me doing this there would be no charge, that wasn’t correct.
- That had been their assumption because “Dick booked it previously” for them.
- I asked the officer concerned and the immediate reply was as I expected: community councils need to pay for all council lets. I knew that as a relatively rookie councillor but Cllr Walsh later said he didn’t know.
- This was passed on by me and I heard no more about it till, a few days before the meeting, I was passing the Queen’s Hall and called by to check to ensure the booking had been made.
- I was told that indeed it had been made and that the costs “were to be re-charged to Cllr Walsh’s office”.
- Cllr Walsh didn’t attend the meeting but, rather oddly, he was thanked at the end of the meeting.
- Cllr Marshall and I discussed this and we were concerned about Cllr Walsh’s involvement because he appeared to have broken a well-known rule and had denied the council the income which would have been around £100 or so.
- He had also rather fallen out of favour with the local community councils over his obstinate opposition to the community buyout of Castle Toward so we felt he was using his position to be pals again with them by getting the hall paid for on their behalf. We used the word “ingratiate” in the complaint which you can download below.
- We submitted a complaint to internal audit in April this year. Despite our misgivings, internal audit passed the matter to the council’s monitoring officer, Mr Hendry. I am unable to say why we both had misgivings as I am unable to say anything that could be construed as public criticism of council officers.
- 6 months later, would you believe, and after several queries about why it was taking so long, a report was produced. Let’s just say Cllr Marshall and myself “disagreed with the conclusions in their entirety”.
- What really got to us was the fact that Mr Hendry had marked the report “Strictly Confidential” and had stated the following:
- This report is considered to be legal advice and as such is exempt from release to a request for information on the basis of Section 36 (1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.
- He had also stated that the report “should not be shared with any third party without my express agreement”
- We have responded vigorously about the attempt to keep the report confidential but he has refused to change his opinion. We do not believe the report does contain any legal advice and we have good grounds for saying this.
- He has also forbidden me to pass it on to either Audit Scotland or the Standards Commissioner. I have made it clear he cannot stop me from passing anything on to Audit Scotland.
- We are at an impasse but he does know that intend I to publish our side of the story, as I do now.
- By not allowing his report to be made public, I am unable to let you read Cllr Walsh’s defence, absurd as I think it is. Part of the absurdity is that Cllr Walsh compared this public meeting to a councillor’s surgery. The only problem is he didn’t attend his own surgery ! What I can also tell you is that as part of that defence, he has tried to implicate me in this irregularity.
The full complaint can be found here: complaint to internal audit april 15 reduced
The report by the monitoring officer has to remain in the background, at least for the moment.
The community council, by the way, has said on several occasions they are willing to pay this account which would have the effect of reversing the charge that was coded against councillors’ expenses. That shows clear willingness to resolve the issue correctly, so they have offered to do the right thing.
This is indeed how Argyll & Bute works and, in particular, how Cllr Walsh works.
Make of it what you will but one thing is sure: if he had held his hand up and said he should not have done this, then apologised, this article would not have needed to be written.
Here are just a few of the comments Cllr Marshall and myself made on this secret report. Some may appear to be out of context but that is because I can’t let you see the report:
Why should this be strictly confidential? What happened is in the public domain and so should this report
We did not ask for legal advice. We raised a concern about a clear procedural irregularity. We consider that defining this report on that irregularity as being legal advice has been done for the sole purposes of keeping it out of the public domain. We see no legal advice within it. It was written by a member of legal staff but that does not make it legal advice.
But perhaps the issue of the Innellan War Memorial should now be investigated because Cllr Walsh apparently managed to get substantial works carried out that no other councillor had been able to; the works were not scheduled in any programme of works; all previous efforts at getting this done had been rejected on the grounds of lack of money; money appears to have been found for these works from various sources once Cllr Walsh became involved and, again, Cllr Walsh has pulled strings no other councillor could do, or would wish to do.
It is correct that the matter of holding the meeting was discussed but Cllr Breslin has absolutely no recollection of any discussion on who would pay for this. Had there been such a discussion, he would have objected there and then because even as a first time councillor, he knew what the rules were. It is simply not credible that Cllr Walsh did not know. What is irrefutable is the fact that Cllr Walsh knew Dunoon CC had plenty of funds to pay for this themselves because he, like Cllr Breslin, attended most meetings and knew their financial position.
This is remarkable. A “Central Governance Manager” doesn’t know the rules; doesn’t consider any governance issues; doesn’t ask and just puts the charge through. Again, it simply shows that most staff would not question anything Cllr Walsh wants to happen.
There is nothing to be added to this. The quoted words say it all: Dick will fix it.
This is utterly untrue. Cllr Breslin was never in agreement with this and Cllr Walsh knows that. As for the apparent support of Cllr McQueen, this is Cllr McQueen who has never attended a community council meeting and who did not attend the event in question so why he would be asked by Cllr Walsh is beyond belief.
And that is reason enough to substantiate the charge that he was trying to ingratiate himself. The motive is now clear: Cllr Walsh knew he wasn’t in a good position in the eyes of both community councils.
Good blog well done