Labour councillors under fire after ‘verbal abuse’ accusation

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By a Newsnet reporter 

The leader of East Ayrshire Council’s (EAC) Labour group has been called on to condemn the behaviour of two Labour councillors after they were accused of verbally attacking council officials.

Labour group leader, Maureen McKay has been asked by SNP Leader of the Council, Douglas Reid to condemn the behaviour of councillors John McGhee and Eric Ross and disassociate her group from their remarks after they were alleged to have accused senior officers of ‘deceit’ and ‘bias’.

The allegations follow a report from Audit Scotland that praised reforms brought in by the new SNP administration after the ruling Labour group were defeated in the 2007 election.  The reforms followed an investigation carried out in 2008 into practices at the council’s building and works department.

At a recent meeting following publication of the report, Labour councillors complained and suggested that Audit Scotland had not provided them with sufficient guidance when they were in charge.  There was also an accusation that senior council officers had deceived the previous ruling Labour administration.

The remarks were eventually withdrawn following a heated debate that witnessed Labour councillors aggressively challenging the Audit Scotland auditor.

Leader of the SNP Administration, Councillor Reid said: “The Labour members concerned cannot accept that this Administration is doing an excellent job and they are determined to turn good news stories into bad.  But the most disturbing aspect was the way in which they verbally attacked officers.”

“Councillor Eric Ross wrongly accused the monitoring officer of partiality.  This was a disgraceful statement and follows on from his performance at Governance and Scrutiny when he accused officers of having previously deceived Elected Members.  He then proceeded to storm out of the chambers; councillor [John] McGhee also criticised officers for lacking in partiality, which is not acceptable.”

Councillor Reid urged his Labour counterpart, Councillor Maureen McKay, to condemn the behaviour of her Labour colleagues and added: “If she does not, then quite clearly she condones their behaviour and their remarks.”

However the Labour leader responded by demanding that Councillor Reid apologise for remarks when he said “tenants had been robbed blind” by being overcharged for repairs while Labour was in administration prior to 2007.

The row follows an investigation in 2008 into the local authority’s building works department.  The investigation led to the dismissal or resignation of several staff from the department including the then boss of buildings and works, John Walker.

Allegations surrounding the department included ‘homers’, the use of council vehicles and materials inappropriately and even charging individual council tenants for repairs.  Questions also arose over the way that building and works charged for its services.

The investigation led to new practices being put in place by the SNP which led to annual savings totalling several million pounds.  The new practices were independently verified by Audit Scotland and also the housing regulator.

Audit Scotland commented that it was the first wholly positive report for any council Direct Labour Organisation (DLO).

SNP Councillor Alan Brown who sits on the Governance and Scrutiny Committee commented: “It is something the auditor for Audit Scotland said that he thought he would never see.  He stated that EAC were so far ahead in Scotland that for benchmarking against other authorities, the net would require to be cast further.”

Councillor Reid said: “I make no apologies for trying to give tenants value for money, building East Ayrshire’s first new Council houses, and improving the quality of our housing stock.  Labour Leader, Councillor Maureen McKay should get her own house in order before criticising others, and apologise for the shameful conduct of her colleagues Councillor Eric Ross and Councillor John McGhee.”