Andrew Burns quizzed by police over £1500 payment to colleague

Council leader Andrew Burns. Picture: Scott Taylor

Council leader Andrew Burns. Picture: Scott Taylor

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CITY leader Andrew Burns has been dragged into a bizarre row after it emerged he was questioned by police earlier this year over a four-figure cash payment to another councillor.

Councillor Burns, who leads the Capital’s Labour-SNP coalition, transferred around £1500 to Cllr Gordon Munro after a shake-up of the committee system left the latter out of pocket.

Last week we told how Deputy Lord Provost Steve Cardownie was quizzed by officers for two hours in March following a similar “cash gift” to independent councillor Jim Orr.

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Both transactions happened in early 2013 – but police only became involved when Cllr Orr lodged a wide-ranging complaint to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life.

Speaking to the Evening News, Cllr Burns admitted he had faced a “lengthy” interview with police earlier this year.

He said: “I can confirm that several months ago the police spoke to me, prompted by a very wide-ranging complaint from my independent councillor colleague, Jim Orr.

“Subsequent to that discussion, I understand the police have since closed any investigation.”

The cash handovers happened after both Cllr Orr and Cllr Munro – who were then SNP transport vice-convener and Labour economy vice-convener respectively – discovered they would lose a Special Responsibility Payment (SRA) given to those with “senior councillor” posts.

In an effort to plug the resulting gap in their salaries, SNP group leader Cllr Cardownie and Labour leader Cllr Burns decided to hand their colleagues around £1500 each of their own money.

Cllr Cardownie gave £1500 in cash to Cllr Orr in his office at the City Chambers, while Cllr Burns transferred the money electronically to Cllr Munro.

Despite initially accepting the payment, Cllr Orr later had second thoughts, returned it and made a complaint to the standards commission, who alerted police.

In an online blog post detailing the incident, Cllr Orr said he had originally made clear he found the deal “totally unacceptable”.

Police Scotland confirmed they had probed the cash handovers earlier this year in an investigation into “fraud at Edinburgh Council” – but later dropped their inquiries.

Cllr Orr quit the SNP group in 2014 and is now an independent.

As a result of his wide-ranging complaints to the standards commissioner, Cllr Cardownie is still under investigation over allegations that he failed to disclose conflicts of interest.

It is understood the claims centre on Cllr Cardownie’s alleged failure to declare his friendship with lobbyist David Coutts during committee meetings where Mr Coutts was acting as an agent for festival promoters and those leasing out venues.

Cllr Munro, who is still vice-convener of the economy committee, declined to comment when contacted by the Evening News, but insisted the issue was now “closed”.

alistair.grant@jpress.co.uk