Was Mark Turley paid to quit council?

Mark Turley
Mark Turley
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A DECISION not to reveal whether a senior official has been handed a golden goodbye after resigning over the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal has been branded an “insult to the people of Edinburgh”.

The city announced yesterday that Mark Turley, 54, was quitting his £123,000-a-year post, eight weeks after being suspended.

An investigation into his involvement in the scandal will “not now proceed”, said chief executive Sue Bruce.

She added that Mr Turley’s suspension had been “precautionary” in order to allow an investigation to take place.

In a statement, the former director of services for communities, said: “Whilst I do not believe I personally contributed to any wrongdoing at Mortonhall Crematorium, as the director with ultimate accountability I believe it is right that I do the honourable thing in recognition of working practices at Mortonhall as criticised in Dame Elish Angiolini’s recent report.”

A council spokesman would not comment on whether a pay-off had been secured but a source said talks had taken place over the past fortnight about the terms of his departure. One expert said a full year’s salary would be a normal settlement in such circumstances, but another suggested Mr Turley might have had to settle for three months’ pay – still more than £30,000.

Tory councillors insisted that taxpayers had a right to know about any pay-off.

Oxgangs councillor Jason Rust said: “Large settlements should not be made behind closed doors. I think people will be disgusted with this outcome.”

And Pentland Hills councillor Dominic Heslop criticised the decision to call off the internal investigation, which follows a similar move when another senior official, Dave Anderson, resigned in November 2012 after being suspended from his post over the statutory repairs saga.

Cllr Heslop said: “This is an insult to the people of Edinburgh. We need to know how much this secretive culture of cosy agreements is costing the Edinburgh taxpayer.

“I would like to know the outcome of this ‘internal investigation’ as it currently stands.

“I would also like to know if Mr Turley has indeed received a pay-off and if so how much. The people of Edinburgh have a right to know. As a council, are we now rewarding failure at a top level?’

Dorothy Maitland, operations director of bereavement support charity Sands Lothian – the woman who first uncovered the ashes scandal – said she was saddened Mr Turley had lost his job.

“I don’t think he is the one who should be in the frame,” she said. “I’m sorry he felt he had to do this, but I respect him for it.”

Mrs Maitland said she had been convinced for a long time by the explanations offered to her by Mortonhall and could understand why Mr Turley might have felt confident about the way it was being run. She said: “I had no reason to doubt them and I think he has been the same.”

Willie Reid, of the Mortonhall Ashes Action Group, said Mr Turley’s resignation strengthened the case for a public inquiry. He said: “Mark Turley had ultimate responsibility, but did he have to resign? Probably not.”

He said it was former Mortonhall supervisors Ann Grannum and George Bell, both named in Dame Elish’s report, who should be giving evidence.

ANALYSIS

By Ian Swanson, Political Editor

MARK Turley was one of the city council’s longest-serving senior officials.

He was a “workaholic” – a powerful and sometimes controversial figure through several changes of administration at City Chambers

But following his suspension in May in the wake of the Mortonhall ashes scandal, few were surprised by yesterday’s announcement that he had chosen to resign.

As the man at the top, he was ultimately responsible for the crematorium and so he has gone, but the parents affected by the scandal make clear they do not see him as the culprit for what went on.

Outside observers may conclude he has been handed the role of scapegoat in a tragic saga where none of those closer to events are around to carry the can.

Sources say Mr Turley’s departure will pave the way for chief executive Sue Bruce to carry out a shake-up in the upper echelons of the council – which could include reducing the size of the Service for Communities department which he headed. Its current remit includes housing, planning, environment and transport and meant Mr Turley overseeing not only Mortonhall but also statutory repairs and even bin collections.

Insiders agree the department is so big it is hard for anyone to keep tabs on all that’s going on, but also say Mr Turley used to argue in favour of its expansion.