By a Newsnet reporter
It’s the never ending story that seems to appear again and again. Glasgow Council and the apparent impunity that protects the authority’s ruling Labour group from typical media scrutiny.
The latest story to emerge from this scandal hit local authority involves the recruitment of a former Labour Minister to the role of policy advisor to the council’s Land and Environmental Services department.
Tom McCabe is the former Labour MSP in question and the decision to place him on the payroll to the tune of almost £50,000 per year has caused anger.
The SNP, not surprisingly have shouted loudest at this appointment, not least because the position is supposed to be non-political.
The SNP have a point. Quite how the appointment of Mr McCabe can be considered non-political given he not only campaigned for Labour in the recent council elections, but is a former Labour councillor, MSP and Minister, is not clear.
There’s also the fact that the local authority is having to shed staff as a result of public service cut-backs. McCabe has done extremely well to land a fifty grand sinecure at a time of great austerity.
‘Jobs for the Boys’ claimed the headline in the Scotsman newspaper, a not unjustifiable claim.
But leaving aside Mr McCabe’s long standing commitment to Labour and his apparent continued reliance on the party for his livelihood, there is the question of his suitability for a role that involves the environment.
Glasgow Council’s website describes one of the key role of Land and Environmental Services as “Protecting and Enhancing the Natural and Built Environment”.
It goes on to say that the body will, amongst its many duties, “monitor air quality and contaminated land and to maintain a high standard of public health”.
The issue of air quality and contaminated land featured this weekend in an article in the Sunday Herald. The story centred on a waste plant at Dargavel in Dumfries that has had its operations restricted by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) after it admitted releasing cancer-causing dioxins up to two-and-a-half times permitted levels into the air.
Coincidentally, this plant owned by Scotgen, featured in Newsnet Scotland’s original highlighting of Tom McCabe’s appointment as policy advisor to Glasgow Council Land and Environmental Services.
What, you may ask does this Scotgen incinerator have to do with Mr McCabe’s appointment by Glasgow Council?
Well, when Mr McCabe was MSP for South Lanarkshire, the owners of the Dargavel site had submitted a planning application to South Lanarkshire Council to build an incinerator in a local beauty spot near Stonehouse.
The land, Dovesdale Farm, earmarked for the project, which would see 150,000 tonnes of waste processed, was on greenbelt and was in an area of environmental interest.
Locals who had campaigned against the proposal, were outrage after eleven Labour councillors, two Tories and one Lib Dem, approved the application on February 2011. The nine SNP councillors voted against the move.
One local, Linsay Powell said: “A lot of people live in this area for one reason and one reason only and that is the fact that it’s gorgeous.
“It’s an important area but I think the issue is not to think you don’t want it to be in your area because you love your area but I think the issue is that incineration technology has so many negative aspects against it.
“There are huge health concerns, there’s been information about birth defects, real strong issues and that’s the ground other councils have taken to refuse the incinerator proposals.”
Another, Celia Tennant was also outside the Council’s HQ on the day the application was granted said: “It’s just unbelievable they’ll have an incinerator in green belt land amongst grazing cows throwing off lots of toxins, dioxins, which affect our children, children born with genetic abnormalities.
“It’s unbelievable – and these are our elected members – 14 people for, 24 thousand people in the community against.”
At the time of the application the Dumfries plant that was the subject of the Sunday Herald article, and which was owned by the same company who made the controversial application in McCabe’s back yard, was already listed as one of Scotland’s top twenty polluters.
According to a September 2010 Site Status Report for the Dargavel incinerator by SEPA: “Since commisioning re-started in March 2010… there have been 17 recorded noise complaints, 15 activations of the by-pass stack, 2 failures of the Continuous Emissions Monitoring System and 172 short term ELV (Emissions Limit Values) breaches”.
One local councillor commented that the new South Lanarkshire proposal by Scotgen had not received a “whisper of support”.
As local MSP for the area, one might have expected Tom McCabe to back his constituents. However, Mr McCabe displayed an alarming lack of interest in the issue, despite a petition condemning the move being signed by 24,000 local people.
Mr McCabe’s silence may have been prompted by links to the local authority where he himself was once a Labour councillor. These links were apparent during the 2011 Holyrood election campaign where one of the councillors who had voted for the Scotgen incinerator, Jackie Burns, was Mr McCabe’s election agent. Burns was one of eleven Labour councillors who voted in favour of the incinerator.
Scotgen’s plans have now been thrown back into the spotlight with the new revelations over toxic emissions. The proposal for a plant at Dovesdale farm is now in doubt with news that Scottish Environment Agency SEPA, has refused to grant a permit.
The Sunday Herald article is an uncomfortable reminder of Mr McCabe’s environmental credentials and his apparent lack of concern for the environmental impact of a waste incinerator in his then constituency.
McCabe was rejected by the same local constituents in the Holyrood elections a few months after his Labour colleagues voted through the Scotgen application. One year later, the former Labour MSP is about to take up an Environmental position with Labour run Glasgow City Council.
In an interesting footnote to this story, the original owners of Scotgen has since gone into administration. UK Capital Venture Holdings Limited and Ascot Environmental were plunged into administration earlier this year. The £20 million Scotgen facility at Dargavel on Lockerbie Road, which is the subject of the Sunday Herald article, is now owned by a company called UK Venturing Limited.
One of the directors of UK Venturing Limited is one James Hennessey, who was also a former director of … UK Capital Venture Holdings Limited and Ascot Environmental. UK Venturing Limited was created just three days prior to the two other companies being placed into administration.