In my last blog I told the story about Cllr Walsh paying for the hire of the Queen’s Hall, Dunoon, for Dunoon Community Council. The article is here: http://blog.breslin.scot/2015/11/16/how-cllr-dick-walsh-works/
I have subsequently been told by the secretary of the community council that my assertion that the meeting was an anti-wind farm meeting was inaccurate. I am more than happy to reflect his alternative view this meeting was a public meeting to ascertain all views and that it wasn’t an anti wind farm meeting. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and I am happy to do this on his behalf.
I attended a very upbeat meeting of the Dunoon Gourock Ferry Action Group (DGFAG) and their hard work has seen progress in finding real interest in operating a vehicle and passenger service when the route is tendered again. They deserve commendation for what they have done and I plan to write with some more detail on this in the near future.
An interesting point came up at the DGFAG meeting last week and that was that the council appears to have been paying for the costs of the meetings the group has had over this past few years in the Queen’s Hall.
In addition, the council appears to have been paying the group’s postage costs too. I was subsequently told that this was arranged by Cllr Walsh, which would mirror the way he organised the community council meeting as per the previous blog.
A number of people have since called me about this issue and a Freedom of Information request was submitted this morning by Mr Alan Stewart. An FOI should establish the facts about this, which I will publish, because it has since emerged that there were other instances where Cllr Walsh allegedly had the use of council facilities paid for.
There are many groups in this area who find the costs of letting council premises a real burden to them so it will be interesting to see the facts and what criteria were used to justify free use, if that is indeed what happened.
The FOI is as follows:
I have been informed that at a recent meeting of the Dunoon Pier Action Group, it was announced that all costs pertaining to the rental of the Queens Hall for meetings of this group had been waived on the instructions of Councillor Walsh. Furthermore, assistance in the form of postage costs was given to this group.
Given the above, under the freedom of information (Scotland) Act 2002, and for the period 01/01/2010 to 01/10/2015, please supply the following information:
1 The number of lets of council premises that were given to groups or organisations within Argyll and Bute at no charge to that group or organization, and where the let and that loss of revenue was authorised by Councillor Walsh.
2 The number of lets for council premises where the cost was charged to Councillor Walsh’s office and not to the group or organisation using the premises.
3 With reference to item 1, the number of these lets where the decision to remove the charge was taken by the relevant local area committee, as opposed to a decision taken by Councillor Walsh alone.
4 The total revenue lost to the council by allowing these groups or organisations free use of council premises.
5 The total cost to the council of the postage costs where this was offered as assistance to any group or organization.
6 A detailed list of all organisations in receipt of this discounted rental or assistance.
Many voluntary and community groups struggle to fund the costs of meeting rooms and communicating with their communities, therefore there is considerable public interest in seeing this information. There is also possible misuse of public funds by a very senior councillor. There is an in-built presumption in FOISA that it is in the public interest to disclose information unless a public authority can show why there is a greater public interest in withholding the information.
FOISA does not define the term “public interest”, but it has been described as “something which is of serious concern and benefit to the public”. It has also been held that the public interest does not mean what is of interest to the public, but what is in the interest of the public. Potential misuse of public funds is not only of considerable interest to the Argyll and Bute community, but it is in the interest of the Argyll and Bute community that this information is released.
If the Leader of the Council doesn’t have the authority to arbitrarily waive charges for the use of certain Council premises or payment of postage, or whatever, it also begs the question of whether Council officers of whatever rank advised him of this, presumably in writing, or sat on their hands.
This is really interesting, Mike. Don’t think anyone would grudge the free use to the ferry group, but as you rightly say, charity groups struggle to rent rooms due to cost and availability. The decline of the Queen’s Hall in terms of decor also meant you could be paying a substantial fee for a room that wasn’t of great standard. I have hired rooms in Lochgilphead and they had a discount for charities renting but still not free. Will keep an eye on this. Thanks.
There are many groups who could rightly benefit from free or subsidised use. The issue here is that this seems to be at the whim of one person if what I have been told is correct. The FOI should establish the truth I hope.