More arrests on way as police probe council staff fraud

The management at Colinton Mains Community Centre questioned bills handled by the council
The management at Colinton Mains Community Centre questioned bills handled by the council
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FURTHER arrests are expected in the investigation into alleged corruption and fraud involving council workers after 15 people were charged by police.

Four former council employees from the city’s property care department were yesterday charged with alleged corruption and fraud in connection with repairs carried out to local authority buildings.

A further 11 individuals – a mixture of contractors and associates of the council workers – have been charged with fraud, corruption and money laundering offences.

Ex-council leader Ewan Aitken, who campaigned for a full investigation of the system until standing down earlier this year, said this was “not the end of the story” and anticipated more arrests. And a senior council source told the News: “We expect a lot more to come out. This is the tip of the iceberg.”

Council sources said yesterday’s charges showed police were able to show alleged “direct collusion” between council workers and contractors who carried out work.

Earlier this month, the News revealed charges were imminent over alleged inappropriate conduct in relation to letting contracts which involved staff in the property care section, a department dealing with buildings often owned by the council.

The four ex-council employees are all men and aged 42, 45, 59 and 62. The council would not disclose whether they were among the seven who have so far been sacked following the scandal, or whether they had resigned or taken retirement. In addition, nine men and two women aged between 30 and 64 were charged with the other offences. Some are believed to be related to the council staff.

The procurator fiscal has been briefed and a full report will be submitted in due course.

A council source said: “This is a key moment because the police have been able to bring charges reflecting alleged collusion between council officials and contractors. The police will go after more contractors if there is more evidence of collusion.”

Mr Aitken said: “I do not believe this will be the end of the arrests. There has been a great deal of fraud and corruption in both property care and with statutory notices in property conservation. This is not the end of the story.”

Mark Turley, director of services for communities, said: “The council’s investigation has identified major concerns in both property care and property conservation. As a result, seven staff have been dismissed so far with a number of cases still under consideration.”

He added: “We are working hard to deal with the significant numbers of customer complaints and to ensure that in future services are accountable to customers and that the necessary checks are built in.”

Police said the arrests were not connected to the statutory repair notices scandal which has beset the council’s property conservation department. A report has been submitted to the procurator fiscal following an investigation into that.

Fourteen staff have been suspended over the scandal sparked by claims of homeowners facing hugely inflated bills for unnecessary or substandard work.

Consultant Deloitte, called in by the council to investigate, is believed to have found people were regularly overcharged, substandard materials were used, contractors were given jobs despite not being on an approved list of firms, confidential information was disclosed to certain firms, and council staff received unofficial payments and undisclosed hospitality.

A council spokesman said the investigation was continuing. He added: “Our intention is that there will be various updates to the August meeting of the policy and strategy committee. Work will continue on disciplinary hearings and complaints.”

Centre of controversy

ONE of the cases being probed by police investigating Edinburgh’s property repairs scandal involved massive bills at a community centre for work that was never carried out.

Police said that they were unable to disclose whether the 15 arrests had any connection to allegations relating to the Colinton Mains Community Centre, but added that “several” projects were linked to the alleged corruption.

The centre was on a list of facilities that faced the axe last year because of excessive costs of keeping it open. But its management committee won it a late reprieve after questioning a series of bills handled by the property care department for work that they claimed never happened.

Details of the bills, which totalled £3000 more than the true cost of the work carried out, were passed to police.