Council dirty tricks cover-up exposed

Cameron House. Picture: Scott Taylor

Cameron House. Picture: Scott Taylor

  • Council staff did fake email
  • Bungling contractors hired as ‘independent’ consultants
  • ‘Phantom’ survey used to dismiss community complaints
16
Have your say

COUNCIL chiefs could be forced into ordering a wider inquiry into problems with the city’s education department as a result of the long-running “dirty tricks” row at Cameron House, a senior councillor has said.

A redacted version of a report by the council’s monitoring officer into the saga surrounding Cameron House community centre in Prestonfield has now been made public, a month after it was discussed by councillors behind closed doors.

It found “poor judgement”, “mismanagement”, “poor communication” and “apparent cover-up” by the council, leading to such a level of mistrust that it was affecting routine operations. And it exposed how the council covered up its blunders, acknowledging for the first time that an email was doctored to make it look as if it had been sent to an individual who was missed off the circulation list, admitting that builders involved in the flawed construction of the centre were sent as “independent” contractors to look at problems with the building, and conceding the council has no explanation for a phantom surveyor, where staff believe a council official posed as a member of the public to gain entry to the centre.

Conservative group leader Cameron Rose welcomed the publication as a sign of a new openness.

He said: “It flags up an appalling situation the council has allowed to develop at Cameron House; it raises a range of questions about why that has happened; and in some areas it doesn’t match the knowledge I have of the situation.”

He said the report brought into the open “some dreadful circumstances that have been going on for years”.

But he added: “This is still an open sore. So far as I can see through the whole process – from the whistleblowing right up to the present – notwithstanding the shambles which has been exposed, no-one has been held to account. I’m not aware of any disciplinary process being initiated in connection with this.”

And he suggested a wider inquiry may be needed into the education department, including not only Cameron House but also Castlebrae High School, which has been at the centre of allegations that inappropriate relationships between particular staff and students were not handled properly.

Former head Derek Curran was parachuted into Castlebrae in June 2013 without going through the normal selection process.

Senior education manager Karen Prophet was later sacked after an inquiry into whether she acted robustly and quickly enough over reports about Mr Curran, 54, who was drafted in to help revive the school amid poor exam results and falling rolls.

And Mr Curran himself was dismissed over his insufficiently swift response to complaints made by a female learner about improper conduct by one of her teachers at the school.

Cllr Rose said: “The council appears to have a history of covering up things – and that appears to be particularly so with incidents in connection with the education department.

“To regain confidence there needs to be thoroughness, openness and frankness.

“The accumulation of issues within the education department begs the question of whether a fuller external inquiry is required.

“If things continue as they are, I think we are heading towards that.”

The report into the Cameron House saga said: “The project has been beset by poor management and communication.”

And it highlighted instances when “behaviour by council officers has fallen below the standards that would be expected”.

These included “apparent cover-up of a clerical oversight, involving a doctored email” and “poor judgement” in selecting consultants to investigate the cause of flooding at the centre. The report described how plans to replace the gym floor at the centre were dropped after an “independent survey” showed it was no longer required, but centre staff were not aware of a survey having been carried out and reviewed CCTV footage to find a man claiming to be “a member of the public interested in new build” whom they believed was the surveyor.

The report said it had not been possible to identify the man “who may or may not be a council officer” but it insists he was not the surveyor on whose work the council’s decision had been based.

The report acknowledges the mistrust between the centre and the council has been aggravated by the impact of the whistleblowing case – where a council employee alleged in 2002 nearly £400,000 had been mis-spent at council arms-length company Edinburgh Lifelong Learning Partnership.

Close associates of the man worked at Cameron House and were bombarded with online porn in an alleged campaign of intimidation.

The council has reopened the investigation into the case after it emerged the whisteblower was never interviewed about his claims.

The council said it wanted to be completely open and transparent.

A spokesman said: “We met the Cameron House management committee last week to acknowledge our significant failings and to apologise unreservedly on behalf of the 
council.

“The next step is for senior management to take appropriate action based on the findings of this report and to work closely with the management committee and others in agreeing an action plan to restore trust, confidence and a positive and constructive relationship for the benefit of everyone involved with Cameron House and the people and the community who benefit from its excellent work.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com