Council’s jolly crewmates sail off into the retirement sunset - John McLellan

Not that they are ever idle, but City of Edinburgh Council’s legal services team must be busy, not just with the continued fall-out from the Hardie Inquiry but with allegations about senior staff.
City chief executive Andrew Kerr. Picture: Ian GeorgesonCity chief executive Andrew Kerr. Picture: Ian Georgeson
City chief executive Andrew Kerr. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Readers may remember the limited inquiries which followed the death of senior social worker Sean Bell in 2020 which not only pointed to failures at the highest levels of management, but the absence of a safe culture for whistle-blowers.

Not without reason, the whistle-blowers themselves dismissed the inquiries, led by Susanne Tanner KC, as a whitewash, and more complaints about senior management are just coming to light. But good news, readers, everyone is in the clear. There is nothing to see here. Move on please.

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First there was independent examination of the decision by chief executive Andrew Kerr to take no further action against legal services chief Nick Smith, for misleading councillors during the original trams fiasco.

Approved despite stiff resistance from Mr Kerr, councillors agreed the report should be complete within six months, but it turns out the examination, understood to be by another law firm, Anderson Strathearn, had already been completed before December’s full council meeting. A report expected in May is to examine what the council has done to implement the Hardie recommendations, not to go over the decision to take no action against Mr Smith, so he’s now fully in the clear.

Then there is Director of Place Paul Lawrence, the man who brought you a Christmas market without planning permission, who has been embroiled in complaints about how the event’s contracts were handled after the tender was won by Surrey-based Angels Event Experience Limited (AEEL) in June 2022. The company, which ran London’s Hyde Park Christmas market, pulled out after only three months after it became clear their promises couldn’t be met, and the contract then passed to Unique Assembly.

An investigation was conducted by the council’s unofficial watchdog Pinsent Masons, the same law firm which carried out the Tanner social work abuse and management culture inquiries, and for a company which isn’t an official council “framework” supplier, it does rather well from the authority’s woes. The outcome is being watched closely by firms which lost money in the debacle, like the Union advertising agency, but they will be disappointed because Mr Lawrence is apparently in the clear too.

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The investigation has been concluded and a report is due to go to the Festivals all-party oversight group and then to the Governance Committee, but I’m told Mr Lawrence is very relieved to have been exonerated. As he should be.

As for the top dog himself, Mr Kerr was the subject of a complaint about procedural matters relating to two very senior officers who have both left. A panel of councillors this year found no further action was necessary. Rumours of other complaints against Mr Kerr about management style have been dismissed as tittle tattle. It cannot be pleasant to be the subject of spurious allegations, so thank goodness there was nothing in it.

Having weathered these storms and all allegations coming to nothing, Edinburgh Council’s senior management is a jolly ship of crewmates and Captain Kerr can sail off into the retirement sunset, contentedly polishing his OBE for his unflinching commitment to public service. God bless you, skipper. The rum’s on us.