Comment: Time we had clarity from the council

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we have never before had a chief executive running the Capital who at the same time has taken on a second job.

Sue Bruce’s appointment as a non-executive director of power company Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) has broken new ground.

While council leaders have defended the move, insisting it won’t distract her from her main post, doubts remain about the wisdom of the new arrangement.

No-one questions Ms Bruce’s integrity, and she remains good value for her £158,000 salary when compared with some public sector packages, like the £260,000 paid to Lothian Buses chief executive Ian Craig.

Two central concerns remain. Firstly, Ms Bruce’s dual role will inevitably throw up questions about conflicts of interest, especially when the council negotiates contracts with SSE or rival power companies. Secondly, there is unease about the lack of debate over a fundamental change to the way in which the city council’s most senior management operates.

The question of the chief executive taking a second job was apparently considered important enough to include a clause in the contract of Ms Bruce’s predecessor, banning him from taking on outside employment without the approval of the full council.

At some point, however, that clause was dropped. It seems reasonable to ask when it was removed and why, but the council refuses to answer. We intend to appeal its latest refusal under Freedom of Information laws.

But, regardless of whether we succeed or not, our council leaders might do well to consider one key point.

It is entirely plausible, perhaps likely, that nothing improper has taken place. But the refusal to answer a straightforward question will lead many people to think, if they have nothing to hide, why don’t they just answer. It is high time we had some clarity.