Gina Davidson: Poisoned boil must be lanced

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TWELVE years ago, community education worker John Travers made the decision that he could not turn a blind eye to what he believed was potential fraud.

He hit “send” on the e-mail which laid out his concerns about the management of Cityconnect, an offshoot of council-backed service Edinburgh’s Lifelong Learning Partnership (ELLP), which aimed to bring digital technology to deprived city estates.

From the moment he blew that whistle his life changed forever.

He found himself being hunted – as he’d made his allegations anonymously – and once his identity was discovered disciplinary proceedings were started against him. However, Mr Travers didn’t lose his job. He’d done the right thing. Furthermore, when he took a case of discrimination against the council at an employment tribunal, he won. His worries about what was happening at Cityconnect proved correct.

The tribunal heard admissions from staff that they had set up their own company, Wabster, which they then awarded work from Cityconnect; that they had employed members of their own families in the project.

The one thing that was never resolved was what had happened to around £400,000 of public money. Even the auditors could not discover whether £265,126 of expenditure by Cityconnect was “properly incurred” as they said there was “no system of control”. The same auditors raised questions over an apparent deficit of £138,000.

Cityconnect folded, as did the ELLP. Mr Travers was awarded £5000 in compensation and the council was told it had failed in its duty to protect him as a whistleblower. No-one was held accountable for that either.

And that, you might think, was that. Now it seems maybe not.

In a bizarre twist, the current mess engulfing the council about the rebuilding of a community centre in Prestonfield seems to be connected to Mr Travers’ whistleblowing more than a decade ago.

Cameron House, is a community education centre where friends and allies of Mr Travers work and they have raised concerns that the problems of the building – and the way these are being dealt with – are, at their root, linked to his decision to expose Cityconnect’s failings.

An auditor’s report into Cameron House apparently reveals that anyone with connections to Mr Travers feels they have been “intimidated”; there are allegations that porn images have been e-mailed, personnel records tampered with and that there’s been anonymous online abuse.

The auditor’s report into Cameron House is not being made public, which might lead the cynical to think there is much to see. Indeed this paper has reported that there are believed to be “allegations of criminal activity”.

Current education director Gillian Tee has to apologise to Cameron House staff. Quite what she’s going to say has not been spelled out. Will she have to admit, as is suggested by the allegations, that the troubles of the community education centre lie in a historical whistleblowing case? That noses put out of joint back then are still smarting?

Once again Edinburgh City Council is embroiled in a scandal.

It is time for this boil to be lanced. If there are allegations of crime then the police need to be brought in and this whole murky episode investigated properly – going right back to Cityconnect – and all and any wrong and inappropriate actions by council staff made totally transparent.

Accountability is the watchword of local government. There has to be some in this case.

A uniform playing field

WHAT a shame that pupils at James Gillespie’s High have decided they don’t want a uniform reintroduced. To my mind it means a level playing field when it comes to teenagers and clothes.

Back when I attended, my mum would say “school is not a fashion show” – but if you weren’t wearing a Benetton jumper or a Nike zip-up jacket then you’d soon know all about it. Uniform was a safer option. It’s good to know that kind of peer pressure – which can lead to bullying – must no longer exist at Gillespie’s.

Honour at last

THE unveiling of a memorial plaque to the nurses who died during the Great War – through the shelling of hospitals, the torpedoing of hospital ships, or as a result of contracting cholera, typhoid or pneumonia – is a long-overdue recognition of their heroics. As historian Yvonne McEwen says: “It always infuriates me that when people talk of the casualties of war they mean the soldiers, never the women who were also there caring for all the injured, and who were also killed. Their work – and the sacrifice of those who died – deserves to be recognised.”

Thanks to Yvonne and others, they finally are.

Trust issues

THE Labour group on the city council are nothing if not cock-eyed optimists. How they thought the time was right to agree a spend of £144m on extending the tram line to Newhaven is beyond me. The council has a lot of trust to win back from the people of Edinburgh before extending the tram will be accepted. It will be the right thing to do at the right time. That is not now.