Clause to stop council boss taking second job dropped

Sue Bruce. Picture: Julie Bull
Sue Bruce. Picture: Julie Bull
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A VITAL clause to prevent the council’s most senior official taking up lucrative second jobs without full council scrutiny was dropped from the chief executive’s contract, the Evening News can reveal.

Officials have refused to say when the small print stipulation to seek approval from either the city’s governance committee or full council before rubber-stamping any outside work was removed.

But today we can exclusively reveal current chief executive Sue Bruce’s predecessor, Tom Aitchison, had a clause in HIS contract which would have prevented him from taking up a paid position with a private firm like SSE without full ratification from committee or the council.

The council is refusing to say when the clause was dropped or even whether it was before or after Ms Bruce’s appointment. Today there were calls for the council to provide details of the timing in order to show that the decision had been taken in a transparent way.

Mr Aitchison served as city CEO for 16 years before being replaced by Ms Bruce in 2011.

Ms Bruce has come under increasing fire for accepting a £50,000-a-year position as a non-executive board member with the power company SSE.

Outraged critics claim it is a serious conflict of interest, while the local authority is in the process of reviewing a contract with SSE worth up to £11 million over five years.

The council has refused to go into detail about the specifics of Ms Bruce’s contract, saying they are “confidential”.

But the fact they insist she has not breached any “terms of her contract of employment” has led critics to question what happened to the contractual clause her predecessor had to abide by to prevent any potential conflicts of interest and – if it was ever in Ms Bruce’s contract – when was it dropped?

Colinton/Fairmilehead Ward Councillor Jason Rust, who has asked the council to explain the steps that led to Ms Bruce accepting the board role, said: “I see no reason why the terms of the employment contract cannot be made public. Information only seems to be forthcoming after asking questions, which I find extremely disappointing. Perception is important and from the feedback I have received from Edinburgh residents, there is real concern about the decision-making processes here. If the process has changed, this may be appropriate, but there needs to be accountability and reason.”

SSE provides electricity and gas to council homes under a lucrative “preferred supplier” arrangement. However, the authority’s leader, Andrew Burnsmade an extraordinary admission this week, saying he did not know the contract with SSE existed when he gave Ms Bruce his blessing to accept the job. Cllr Burns only sought legal advice from law firm Brodies LLP after learning about the arrangement from an Evening News exclusive.

He has since again defended Ms Bruce, saying any potential risk did not outweigh the benefits to the council.

Ms Bruce has promised to donate a large portion of her SSE salary to charitable causes.

But John Stevenson, branch president of the city council’s largest union, Unison, said the damage had “already been done”.

A council spokesman said: “The chief executive has not breached any terms of her contract of employment. Sue discussed the appointment with council leader Andrew Burns, and with corporate governance and HR colleagues before accepting the role.”

Suspected career move

THE decision by city chief executive Sue Bruce to take a board role with Scottish and Southern Energy [SSE] has been labelled a possible career move.

Ms Bruce, who first took up the post as CEO of Edinburgh council in January 2011, has spent 37 years working in local government. The 57-year-old has served on a number of external boards, including the Scottish Council for Development and Industry [SCDI], but has never held a non-executive position with a private firm with SSE’s status.

The Perth-based power giant is a FTSE-100 energy group and the UK’s third largest electricity supplier. Colinton/Fairmilehead Ward Councillor Jason Rust said: “I suspect it is a career move.”