To complete the story about Calum McMillan, Audit Scotland has refused to look into the expenditure incurred by the council defending his claim. Further approaches have been made to Audit Scotland by myself and Michael Russell, but we doubt they will heed them.
Anyway, I have just sent the following to all councillors, the 4 officers who made the complaint about me and to the press. It should be self explanatory:
I have delayed and delayed sending this and have tried various means to reach some conclusion to the issues that have arisen during and after the complaint by the council’s then 4 most senior officers. Unfortunately, every attempt to do this has been rebuffed by those officers and just last week matters reached a new low. I will provide details on that new low in a day or so.
I said in my statement issued on 12 December 2016 that I intended to counter the derogatory use of the word “behaviours” by Mr Sneddon in his statement by giving examples of the “behaviours” I encountered from officers. These examples come from my first year as a councillor and it is my position that the “behaviours” I came across had a profound effect on relationships. I was, frankly, astounded at the way in which elected members were treated. Mrs Loudon’s refusal to answer any of my 38 written questions in August 2012 about Castle Toward was astonishing but the rot had started before that, as this first example of “behaviours” will demonstrate. The “mutual trust and respect” in the extract below from the ethical standards protocol, was missing from the “behaviours” of a number of officers, not from me, and therein lies the heart of the problem.
The examples I intend to provide are all from the case papers which are a matter of public record. In March 2016 I responded to a draft report from the commissioner which concluded with a personal statement from me in which I tried to convince the commissioner of the reasons for the breakdown in relationships. What was made of this personal statement I do not know.
The quality of the case papers is not great because they were all scanned, page numbered, redacted where the commissioner’s staff thought necessary and then reduced in size as PDFs. I am, therefore, not using that scanned material. For ease of reading I am using the original content. No changes have been made other than I have inserted the word BLANK where the commissioner has redacted names etc. All of this personal statement will be issued over the next period. Here is the first part.
Personal Statement by Cllr Michael Breslin
Councillors and employees should work in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, with neither party seeking to take unfair advantage of their position. (extract from the ethical standards protocol)
This statement has been written to try and demonstrate some of the reasons why mutual trust and respect may have broken down and why trust, in particular, was damaged in my first year as a councillor. This, unlike the earlier part of this response, is written in the first person as it is very much a personal statement to try and convince the Commissioner of my integrity and honesty.
I had a lengthy telephone conversation with the Controller of Audit in late January or early February 2014. I had agreed to provide him with some examples of why trust had been damaged. Any text in blue has been taken from correspondence between myself and the Controller of Audit of Audit Scotland in March 2014.
In June 2012 I was asked to attend a meeting with 2 other councillors, Isobel Strong and John Semple. This was to do with a former teacher who had taken voluntary redundancy some time before and who then had no income, her claim being that she was misled by the council over access to her pension. There was more to this story than that but the point here is what we were told.
John was the local ward councillor and Isobel had been lead councillor for education at the time this teacher had left the council. I was at that time (June 2012) lead councillor for education. We met with Douglas Hendry and Charles Reppke to find out what was happening with this individual. Douglas and Charles spoke for about 20 minutes or more, with questions from John and Isobel in between. I said nothing but listened carefully. The voluntary redundancy deal at the time was a common one whereby if someone had immediate access to their pension, they would get that access plus their lump sum plus a redundancy payment. If someone did not have access to their pension then there was an enhanced redundancy payment.
What Mr Hendry told us was that the letter the council had sent this employee had been “ambiguous”. When I spoke for the first time I asked about this letter and I said it seemed to me that the letter contained 2 material errors. One was it said she had access to her pension (when she was far too young for this) and the other was it offered her the enhanced redundancy payment. Mr Hendry agreed that this was what the letter contained so I asked him how that could possibly be described as “ambiguous”.
Instead of saying 2 mistakes had been made he tried to cover these up with language that misled the 3 elected members. Minor it may be but this kind of thing leads to a lack of trust.
They don’t like “behaviours” that expose wrong doing.
Kick Scoullar, Morton and Walsh out in May and things will improve.
One amoeba would have greater brain power and be an improvement on the three of them put together.
As you know, I follow your blog regularly but I don’t necessarily “follow-up” on everything. For example, I seem to recall Sally Loudon giving you no reasons for not responding to your 38 written questions. If that’s the case it can only be unbelievably extraordinary that a senior public servant can choose to be selective about replying to correspondence and, in particular, from an elected councillor. Indeed, surely this would merit disciplinary action? Does she have a side to the issue or is she at liberty to do this if she decides that replying would be inconvenient, or she simply doesn’t like the questioner?
Also, has Audit Scotland given any reasons for not wishing to investigate the expenditure incurred by the Council in the Calum McMillan case? This is potentially even more serious as you are clearly suggesting that the Council has been irresponsible with public money. Who audits Audit Scotland and on what basis can they pick and choose their investigations?
As to the voluntary redundancy case, from what you say there would appear to be no ambiguity. If the former teacher was wrongly advised in the letter then its surely a simple process of being open about it, apologising for the error and giving her the correct advice. Mistakes do happen but if the culture within the Council is to somehow conceal them we’re all in deep trouble. That is the bumpy road to incompetence and corruption!
In my view Iain, the history of Castle Toward was littered with appalling behaviour by council officers and councillors over many years. The last thing they wanted was any of this exposed. That is why she didn’t reply and, in so doing, demonstrated how weak she was. Instead of changing the culture in the council, she became part of it.
I have updated the blog today on the Calum McMIllan case.
In competence and corruption ! what can I say?
The Kilmory double track system raising its head again a meaning for “ambiguous” by Mr Hendry in a false exculpatory manner.It would be understandable if it were your normal person but were not talking normal were talking the very highest echelons of ABC misusing words. If he and the ones referred to genuinely have the honest best interests of Argyll at heart,why do they not answer the questions raised and with specificity. What do they have to hide? I suppose another question I have is what does it take to get fired from the inner circle of Kilmory and its administration? Can they do no wrong? The Law is for the rest of us subservient residents of Argyll.