Newspaper cleared of ‘Labour campaign tool’ claims

Martin Hinds. Picture: Rob McDougall
Martin Hinds. Picture: Rob McDougall
  • Unadvertised role given to ex-Labour councillor David Pickering
  • Board chaired by husband of Lesley Hinds
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LEADERS of a community newspaper in the Capital have been cleared of wrongdoing following claims their publication was little more than a campaign tool for Labour.

Staff at North Edinburgh News (NEN) were probed after economy chief Councillor Frank Ross and deputy communities leader Cllr Alex Lunn called for an “immediate suspension” of financial support, alleging a “misappropriation” of funds.

But the council investigation into Contact in the Capital – the project through which cash was released to NEN – found no evidence it was operating outwith official guidelines.

The review was carried out after Cllrs Ross and Lunn, both SNP members, wrote to city council chief executive Sue Bruce to express concern over £25,000 given to the NEN board, which helped pay for a short-term editorial role filled by former Labour regional councillor David Pickering.

It emerged no efforts were made to advertise the position, with Mr Pickering being offered the role by the board, which is chaired by Martin Hinds, also secretary of the Edinburgh Western constituency Labour party and the husband of city transport and environment convener Lesley Hinds.

The letter highlighted the board’s alleged “lack of political neutrality” and questioned why no “visible” digital media training strategy had been provided – even though this was agreed by councillors when funding was approved.

NEN leaders said they were “satisfied” to hear of the review findings.

Director Alex Dale said: “I do not disagree that 30 years ago the paper was formed out of a socialist background in north Edinburgh, but in the last few years I’ve been there it’s been a totally apolitical paper.

“The NEN board are satisfied that the council have recognised the good work of a local newspaper and that they have been cleared of misappropriation of council funds.”

Cllr Lunn said: “I am delighted that funding for [Contact in the Capital] is going to be used, among other things, to help young people gain training and future opportunities.”

A council spokeswoman confirmed there had been a full governance review, which found the pilot was operating “in accordance” with decisions reached at the city’s corporate policy and strategy committee.