By Margaret Little
Labour Group leader on East Ayrshire Council, Maureen McKay and fellow Labour Councillor John McGhee have had writs served on them by one of Scotland’s leading property investment and development firms, the Klin Group.
The writs were served after false claims were contained in a letter to a local newspaper written by Mr McGhee.
The Labour councillor sparked controversy with his letter to the Kilmarnock Standard in which he claimed that the cost of an office development involving the Klin Group had been kept secret by the ruling SNP administration.
The councillor said: “I cannot disclose how much all this cost the council tax payer as the details are contained within secret papers.”
The development, in Kilmarnock Town Centre, is on the site of the old Opera House.
However the claims by Councillor McGhee were revealed to be untrue after it emerged that papers surrounding the development were already in the public domain.
Details of the development had in fact gone through at a meeting attended by Labour Group leader Councillor Maureen McKay 18 months previously.
The Klin Group issued a writ against Councillor McGhee as a result of the false claims.
After being served with the writ, Councillor McGhee submitted a further letter to the local paper issuing an apology, but bizarrely claiming that he had been misquoted by the Kilmarnock Standard.
In the ensuing row the paper claimed not to have edited the letter in a manner that would have left it materially different to that which Councillor McGhee had written. The paper then revealed that the letter had been received by email and it had originated from the email account of Labour Group Leader Maureen McKay.
SNP councillor Jim Buchanan then demanded an explanation from the Labour leader saying: “There are two explanations for this. Either she was the author or she approved this letter before it was sent.”
He then asked Councillor McKay: “Who sent the letter which attacked this administration, officers and a local development company and will she apologise?”
Councillor McKay’s responded: “I have no comment to make,” prompting Councillor Buchanan to respond: “A shameful answer. No remorse from the Labour group and no apology, which is disgraceful.”
The episode has resulted in the Labour group leader herself being served with a writ.
It isn’t the first time Councillor John McGhee has been involved in controversy after attacking the integrity of council officers. In November last year Newsnet Scotland revealed that the same Labour councillor had been condemned after accusing senior council officers of “deceit” and “bias”.
The allegations followed 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 council election. The reforms followed an investigation carried out in 2008 into practices at the council’s building and works department.
The investigation led to the dismissal or resignation of several staff including the then boss of buildings and works, John Walker.
The investigation was prompted by claims involving ‘homers’, inappropriate use of council vehicles and materials 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).