Council refuses FOI over Sue Bruce SSE job

Sue Bruce represents city and SSE, and critics say there's conflict of interest. Picture: Julie Bull
Sue Bruce represents city and SSE, and critics say there's conflict of interest. Picture: Julie Bull
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A PROBE that would have established how Edinburgh City Council’s boss landed a second job with a power firm has been met with a wall of silence.

The Evening News submitted a Freedom of Information request to establish how chief executive Sue Bruce was able to take up a £50,000-a-year consultancy role with energy giant SSE.

But the inquiry – which would have laid bare if a clause on the need to consult full council on outside work was included in her contract, or not – has been stonewalled.

Critics have slammed the silence, branding it “unhelpful”.

It is understood Ms Bruce’s predecessor, Tom Aitchison, had a stipulation in his contract preventing him from taking up a paid job with a private firm like SSE without full ratification from committee or the council.

But the local authority has refused to say whether the same clause ever existed in the contract of Ms Bruce, whose sideline appointment was rubber stamped behind closed doors.

Eben Wilson, director of campaign group TaxpayerScotland, said: “Just staying silent does seem to be unwise and unhelpful to the populace of Edinburgh.”

Ms Bruce, who started in her non-executive board role with SSE last month, is under attack for accepting the job.

We revealed in August how she was taking up the role with the firm, which has a contract to supply energy to Edinburgh households. The £11 million deal is up for renegotiation.

Edinburgh’s largest public sector union, Unison, labelled the decision to allow her to take up the post a serious conflict on interest.

Since our revelations emerged the council has introduced a register of employees who have secondary jobs. Ms Bruce is among those employees who will have to be registered.

In a bid for further transparency, all FoI responses are being published on the council’s website, with a full list of hospitality and gifts accepted by councillors and senior officials also to be posted from the end of this year..

Colinton/Fairmilehead ward councillor Jason Rust, who had previously demanded answers about the process, is delighted steps are being taken in some areas to offer more transparency, but says he believes the vital questions about what clauses may have been in the chief executive’s contract relating to secondary paid work need to be answered urgently.

He said: “I am pleased a new register has been introduced.

“This is encouraging from the viewpoint of transparency and scrutiny and should give greater confidence going ahead, but clarity on the 
internal processes involved is also vital.”

Council officers sought external legal advice from Brodies LLP about Ms Bruce’s appointment in August. A separate FoI request to learn the law firm’s full written response to the inquiry has also been knocked back.

The Evening News is set to appeal the decision not to answer the key questions. In a leaked missive sent to councillors – and also revealed by this paper – Ms Bruce revealed her commitment to the job remains “undiminished”.

HOW THE STORY HAS UNFOLDED

July 18: Chief executive Sue Bruce comes under fire from unions for accepting a £50,000-a-year non-executive board position with SSE.

August 3: Ms Bruce writes to elected politicians explaining why she took the job.

August 7: The Evening News tells how a lucrative “preferred supplier agreement” to thousands of council tenants held by SSE is being reviewed.

August 15: Council leader Andrew Burns admits he did not know his own authority had a 12-year agreement with SSE.

August 17: It is revealed Ms Bruce’s predecessor, Tom Aitchison, had a clause in his contract stopping him taking up a paid position with a private firm without full council approval.

August 28: Cllr Burns says discussions with Ms Bruce over the SSE job started in February.