By Martin Kelly
Labour’s Glasgow Council leader Gordon Matheson has been accused of bringing the city of Glasgow into “significant disrepute” over his handling of the original George Square redevelopment competition.
A day after a scaled down redevelopment of the Square was finally announced, a confidential document obtained by Newsnet Scotland reveals the extent of the Labour councillor’s role in the aborted competition which was aimed at choosing a new design for Glasgow’s main civic space.
The document, prepared by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) reveals the chronology of the abandoned competition that saw 35 initial submissions and led to six designs being shortlisted for the contract to redevelop George Square.
It details how Mr Matheson repeatedly ignored the advice of RIAS professionals and insisted that he chair the competition. The document goes on to note that the Labour council leader repeatedly refused to abide by competition rules and convention, pushed for his own favorite design. The document also notes that Glasgow Council is suspected of breaching European procurement rules by leaking confidential information to the press.
The source who passed on the document to Newsnet Scotland also spoke of council staff who are reluctant to speak out about the scandal surrounding the architectural competition amid fears of reprisals, including threats they could be sacked.
The document also reveals that the estimated cost to the public purse of Mr Matheson’s refusal to comply with the agreed process is “significantly more than £300,000”. It also reveals the anger felt by RIAS professionals who were unable to speak out as their integrity was impuned and their profession brought into disrepute, along with that of the city.
Newsnet Scotland also understands that RIAS is considering asking Audit Scotland to investigate the issue.
According to the document, problems began when Glasgow Council ignored an original plan for RIAS to prepare a Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) for the competition. The purpose of a PQQ is to pre-qualify tenderers for competence, and to assist in developing the specification of requirements and mutually acceptable outline terms and conditions of a contract.
Initially the responsibility of RIAS, it was taken over by the Labour-run council’s own in-house Development and Regeneration Services team. Glasgow City Council Procurement then prepared and lodged the PQQ without the knowledge of RIAS.
RIAS were unable to access the PQQ even with the help of council officials. It eventually took almost one month before the documents were made available. However, the PQQ prepared by the Council was so poor it was aborted, and the official responsible removed from his post – he is no longer employed by GCC.
A new PQQ was then drafted with the help of RIAS and re-launched.
The aborted process led to significant delay which impacted on the shortlisting process, which in turn resulted in architects having to work through Christmas in readiness for a January submission.
According to the document, Mr Matheson made it clear which of the submissions he preferred. The Labour leader also let it be known he would take part in the judging process and highlighted the importance of the competition in respect of his own agenda as council leader.
Alongside Mr Matheson on the judging panel were David Mackay of MBM Architects – Barcelona, Professor Andy MacMillan OBE, David Harding OBE – the renowned sculptor and community artist, and Geoff Ellis who directs one of Scotland’s most successful events companies (responsible for the annual ‘T’ in the Park Festival among many other musical and sporting events).
A recommendation by RIAS that Mr Mackay chair the judging panel was rejected by Matheson on 11th January. The Labour leader indicated that the competition was his idea and he would chair the process himself.
The document also details the growing agitation of Mr Matheson as the judging process left his preferred choice in fourth place of the six entrants, despite the Labour leader awarding highly unusual top marks in all categories to his own favourite, and suspiciously low marks to other entrants. The eventual winner, John McAslan & Partners, was described by Matheson as being “disrespectful to Glasgow” – a view robustly challenged by RIAS Secretary Neil Baxter.
In its conclusion, the report says:
This was a well-run competition. While the hiccup of the PQQ process was unfortunate, the competition brief and the process were correct and sufficient. However, from his initial comments at the first judges meeting onwards, it appears that, for whatever reason, Councillor Matheson had selected his own winner at the outset and reasoning by a very experienced group of judges did not persuade him otherwise.
His abandonment of the judging process at the conclusion of the Wednesday meeting led to much negative press. Unfortunately because they were still involved in a confidential process and they are all consummate professionals, the judges were unable to give their side of the story, even though one press cartoon depicted them wearing dunce’s hats.
On the decision by Mr Matheson to reject the final decision, the report added:
The subsequent decision to breach the promise inherent in any such process, albeit arguing that this was in the “public interest”, resulted in a very significant waste of public and private resources. This competition brought the judges, the profession, the Incorporation and the City of Glasgow into significant disrepute.
These new claims against the Labour Council leader will prove unhelpful as he seeks to repair a damaged public profile caused by both the George Square fiasco and a recent report lodged with the procurator fiscal alleging inappropriate sexual behaviour with another man in a Glasgow car park, something Mr Matheson publicly apologised for.
If the allegations contained in the report are accurate, Mr Matheson may well find his role as leader of Glasgow Council’s Labour group coming under pressure and becoming untenable. Mr Matheson took over the role of council leader in a bid by the Labour party to move on from the scandals surrounding the administration and later resignation of the disgraced Stephen Purcell, however since taking office Mr Matheson has likewise found himself embroiled in a series of scandals.