Labour under pressure to explain failure of data security at Glasgow Council


By a Newsnet reporter

Police have been called in to investigate the theft of some 50 laptops from Glasgow City Council, over half of which were previously used by councillors with all but three unencrypted.

Graeme Hendry, the SNP group leader on the Council, has called on the ruling Labour group to explain why they have repeatedly failed on data security.

The loss of the computers was noticed last month while council officials were investigating the theft of two other computers, one of which contained the financial and personal details of many thousands of individuals and companies.  

Annemarie O’Donnell, executive director of corporate services, said in a statement:

“You will recall the council suffered the theft of two laptops from City Chambers East last month.

“As part of the investigation, it has become apparent that a number of laptops, around 50, have gone missing from the secure area where they were being stored while awaiting disposal.

“As there is no legitimate reason why these laptops might have been removed, staff from ACCESS have informed Strathclyde Police who are investigating the matter.”

One of the first laptops reported stolen held the bank account detals of 16,000 individuals and companies, in total the computer held the personal details of 37,835 suppliers and city residents.  The laptop was one of two which were stolen around the 28th of May during a break in at the council’s Cochrane St offices.   

Glasgow City Council said that as well as notifying the police of the thefts, they had also notified the Information Commissioner’s Office about the possible breach of confidential data.  

A spokesman for the ICO confirmed they had been made aware of a “possible data breach”, adding that they would be “making enquiries into the circumstances of the alleged breach of the Data Protection Act before deciding what action, if any, needs to be taken”.

The council has apologised to people affected by the data loss and urged anyone with information to contact the police.

The news comes just a few days after the theft of 6 laptops and a sum of money was reported at neighbouring Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council.  The computers were stolen from council offices in Motherwell.

ACCESS, the company responsible for security on Glasgow Council Premises, was strongly criticised in an internal audit carried out by the Council.  According to the report, the company was responsible for issuing over 160 unencrypted computers earlier this year, in contrary to council policy.  

Despite the criticisms from the council’s own officials and the recent loss of computers containing sensitive data, Glasgow Council is recommending that the company takes over responsibility for key council buildings, including the City Chambers, Park Circus registry office, Parish Halls and the council’s offices in Martha Street.

ACCESS is a joint venture owned by Glasgow City Council and Serco Ltd – the company which run prisons and immigration removal services across the UK.

The company was created in 2008 when disgraced former leader Stephen Purcell was head of the Labour run local authority.  Mr Purcell resigned in March 2011 admist controversy after admitting to drug use.  Allegations were made that Mr Purcell and his group created the so called arms-length organisations or ALEOs as a means of dispensing favour and patronage.  

Glasgow councillors awarded themselves extra payments for sitting on the boards of ALEOs.  In 2010 Glasgow City Council admitted that 40 councillors were sharing an annual payout £261,491 for sitting on these companies.  A report by Herald newspaper in 2010 revealed how Mr Purcell used Aleo payments to support an elaborate system of political patronage, with many Labour councillors received thousands of pounds annually over and above their salaries and council expenses.  

In 2011, the majority SNP administration at Holyrood ruled that the payment of councillors sitting on the boards of ALEOs “completely undermines the principles which underpin the existing remuneration scheme”.

Moves to hold an independent investigation into alleged impropriety involving companies which won contracts from the local authority were blocked by Mr Purcell’s former allies on the council.  Police announced earlier this year that no charges would be brought against Mr Purcell.

Commenting on news that 50 laptops were stolen from Glasgow City Council, Glasgow SNP Group Leader Graeme Hendry said:

“This is a major blunder from Labour at Glasgow City Council and raises serious questions about security at council property.

“The theft of 50 laptops, in addition to the two previously reported, is deeply concerning.

“But what is even more distressing is that this isn’t the first time something like this has happened – and comes on the back of another Labour council laptop theft in North Lanarkshire only last week.

“The council doesn’t have a shred of credibility when it comes to data security – how can it when it continues to lose data?

“We’ve had stolen laptops, misplaced election ballot boxes and information relating to social work and psychological reports have been lost.

“Labour must explain how they have failed time and time again to ensure security of data and how they will resolve this as it is clear their own ALEO is not up to the job.”