Gina Davidson: The scandal that will not go away

Police investigated the issuing of property repair contracts. Pic: Callum Bennetts
Police investigated the issuing of property repair contracts. Pic: Callum Bennetts
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NOW that the dust has settled a little on the suspension of Mark Turley, Edinburgh City Council’s director of services for communities, let’s just think about why he’s currently sitting at home twiddling his thumbs and getting his massive pay cheque while others are left to pick up the slack.

No-one, except Mr Turley and his boss Sue Bruce, knows the exact reasons for relieving him of his duties, however temporarily, but the publication of the Mortonhall report with its criticisms of a lack of supervision of what went on at the crematorium will be top of the list as the latest disaster under his watch.

Quite why he should be held directly responsible for what went on there over a period of decades I’m not quite sure. Certainly Mortonhall comes under his jurisdiction, but then so does just about everything that happens in Edinburgh, from bin collecting to emergency council housing, community safety to property repairs. And it’s there that I think the problem for Mr Turley really lies: the scandal that the council just can’t seem to shake off.

It was in November 2010 that this newspaper first revealed that staff within the council’s property services department had been suspended as a precautionary measure after allegations were made that unnecessary repairs were carried out at homes and businesses across the Capital. This had been going on for at least four years, while at the same time the contractors who were winning this work were offering hospitality to the staff putting the contracts out to tender.

An independent expert was appointed to examine £4.5 million worth of property repair contracts while the police investigated potential criminal activities. At the time Mr Turley was quoted as saying the investigation was “a matter of urgency”.

So urgent has it been that three-and-a-half years later we still are no closer to a resolution. The whole service has been suspended, 11 people have been sacked, the whistleblower who raised the problems is taking the council to employment tribunal, while a total of 30 staff have been drawn into the investigation, when it was expanded to include the property services which deal with public buildings – and that was long before a wall collapsed and killed 12-year-old Keane Wallis-Bennett at Liberton High.

The amount of money likely to be written off by the council for works done but not paid for by house owners who are querying their bills is running into the multi-millions. Bills for lawyers, accountants, auditors and “independent examiners” will also have seen more millions spent. All at a time when the council cannot afford to mis-spend a single penny. And despite a very long police investigation there have been no criminal charges brought against anyone involved.

And through all of this Mr Turley was the one convincing officials and councillors to bring in expensive auditors to try and reclaim money back from homeowners.

All of that I would suggest is why Mr Turley has been suspended, an apparent inability to bring a halt to a scandal which could cost the council dearly, and which, had there been closer scrutiny of policies and procedures in property services – similar to scrutiny lacking at Mortonhall – might never have happened.

Out with old and in with the . . old

OUT of the Blue, the independent arts organisation, is celebrating its 20th year. It’s in its third home at the Drill Hall in Dalmeny Street, after small beginnings in Blackfriars Street before moving to the old bus station depot in New Street and transforming a dead end part of town into a busy, creative, hive of activity.

It was, of course, forced to move from there in 2002 when the controversial idea of “Caltongate” was born. Yet 12 years on, while OOTB is thriving, the New Street site is still derelict. Now the new developers want to rename the area New Waverley in the hope that it can disassociate it from previous negative publicity. There’s little hope of that when the new plans are just the same as the old plans.

It’s time that all parents had say

NO surprise that Edinburgh parents have vetoed the idea of longer school summer holidays. It’s absolutely right that children should get a long break in the summer, but six weeks of juggling childcare and work, and possibly squeezing in a holiday if there’s money to pay for it, and whether, if there are two parents, both can get leave at the same time, is stressful enough, without stretching it out another week.

Oh wait . . . that’s what already happens in West Lothian, where I don’t ever remember being asked if I’d like that to be the case or not. Time for a parental survey perhaps WLC?

Vote today . . . but not for him

IN the midst of all the referendum argy bargy, today’s European elections have been somewhat ignored – unless you happen to be a Ukip candidate of course. Turnout for the European elections is, sadly, generally low, but Europe matters, and never more so than now when Scotland is on the brink of making a historical decision about its future. So please vote today. But not for Ukip.