Labour councillors at Scotland’s largest local authority were allowed to use Council facilities in order to help process Labour party material.
Newsnet Scotland has learned that a special deal existed at Labour controlled Glasgow Council giving Labour members exclusive use of council facilities and staff in order to produce party political literature and distribute correspondence.
We can also reveal that the ruling Labour group, headed by Stephen Purcell’s replacement Gordon Matheson, sent out voting questionnaires two months before the 2010 general election.
The special deal gave the Labour councillors use of typing and email services for only 2p per letter or email. The deal also allowed the councillors to use Council Chambers as an address in order to send and receive mail.
The long term arrangement came to light after an official complaint was lodged on the 23rd July last year by SNP Councillor Graeme Hendry. The complaint, against Labour leader Gordon Matheson, resulted in an investigation by the Standards Commission in Scotland; it also resulted in the 2p charge being increased to 10p.
The investigation found that the arrangement had been “at variance” with council guidelines on the use of council facilities, including ICT equipment. It also found that the Council was not “lawfully entitled to publish” the material on behalf of the Labour party.
Further, on the specific use of Council facilities to distribute the voting questionnaires the investigation said: “Given the proximity of their issue to the date of the General Election on 6 May 2010, the Council was, at best, ill-advised to provide facilities to these councillors to enable them to collect information on constituents voting intentions.”
The arrangement allowed Labour councillors to use the Council building as an address in order to send and receive mail including a general election questionnaire sent out in March 06th, weeks before the 2010 general election that was designed to collect information on constituents voting intentions.
All the leaflets invited constituents to indicate how they had voted in the past and how they intended to vote at the 2010 General Election. In addition, the leaflets issued by Labour’s group leader Gordon Matheson together with Labour colleagues Catherine McMaster, Gilbert Davidson and Gerald Leonard invited constituents to indicate their level of support for the Labour Party. Another leaflet issued by Councillor George Ryan provided a box to be ticked if the recipients wished to indicate that they would like to join/help the Labour Party.
Responses were received in the council mailroom, sorted by council staff and distributed to the appropriate Labour councillors.
However, in a bizarre judgement the investigating officer ruled that Council facilities had not been used in the distribution of the leaflet issued by Councillor Matheson or the leaflets issued by Councillors Ryan, McMaster, Davidson and Leonard.
In an even more perplexing ruling the investigating officer decided that using Council facilities to receive and sort the electoral leaflet responses did not breach the code because the arrangement had been in place for years.
From the ruling:
“The use of Council facilities to receive, sort and distribute responses to the leaflets was part of the wider arrangements described above which have been available to the Labour Group for a considerable number of years and which appear to operate with the approval of the Council although it seemed to be unclear when, or indeed if, the arrangements had ever been formally approved by the Council. Having regard to the long-standing nature of the arrangements, together with the fact that the respondent [Matheson] would have understood them to have had the approval of the Council and the Council’s Legal Department, I considered that it would be unreasonable to regard the respondent’s use of Council facilities, in the form of the Council’s City Chambers address and mailroom facilities for receiving and distributing responses from constituents to questions of a party political nature, as a breach of the Code.”
SNP group leader James Dornan said:
“Despite the fact that Councillor Matheson was cleared of any impropriety it is clear from the Standards Commission’s own comments that the relationship between Glasgow City Council and the Labour Party has been far too cosy for far too long.
“Given that the report admits that council staff were used to ‘receive, sort and distribute’ responses to Labour leaflets I’m at a loss to understand the conclusion of the Standards Commission.”
These new revelations come only days after Gordon Matheson came under fire for using a council funded magazine in order to mount attacks on the SNP.
The use of taxpayer funds in order to distribute politically motivated material is forbidden in the period immediately before an election and the Labour leader’s attempt resulted in £42,000 of taxpayer’s cash being wasted as thousands of copies of the Glasgow Magazine were destroyed.
Yesterday it emerged that Matheson’s Labour group were seeking the removal of three SNP councillors, including SNP group leader James Dornan, from their posts on ALEOs committees. The move is being seen as an act of revenge after Matheson’s taxpayer funded attack on the SNP was exposed.