Edinburgh secure accommodation scandal: councillor says he regrets blocking debate

The councillor whose motion blocked the debate of a damning report on Edinburgh’s secure accommodation says he now regrets his action.

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Green councillor Chas Booth said he did not realise the implications of his move and believes the report – which highlighted inappropriate restraint, assaults on young people and a toxic management culture – should have been debated.

It was on the agenda at the last full council meeting on March 17 but was not reached before the 5pm cut-off time when remaining business must be voted on without discussion. Tory councillor Jim Campbell proposed suspending standing orders to allow a debate, but Councillor Booth proposed sticking to them and his motion won by 36 votes to 19.

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Councillor Booth said: "There was no chance for us to debate what the implications were, we had to reach a decision in a matter of seconds.”

He said he believed the Tories were suggesting the meeting should carry on and debate all the remaining reports and motions, which could mean being there till 10pm.

“We have that standing order in place to protect our staff from working excessively long hours. I was not fully aware of the implications. It was obviously a very serious report and it should have been fully debated, so I regret that I proposed to stick to standing orders instead of suspending them.

"In retrospect it would have been better for us to potentially even put the rest of the agenda onto a future meeting and it could have been debated during working hours."

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Chas Booth regrets blocking debate on the secure accommodation scandal

He said he had not discussed the matter with his Green colleagues beforehand. “It was not a party position, it was just me as an individual saying I didn't agree with Councillor Campbell.

“It was a split second decision and it's one in retrospect I regret because the survivors had an absolute right to expect that that report was debated.”

But the leaders of the SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems all defended their decision to vote against having a debate on the report.

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SNP council leader Adam McVey said he would rather have had the debate, but the council had a duty of care to its staff and he recognised the impact which extending the meeting could have had on their welfare.

He said: “We had Conservative councillors criticise the fact we'd run out of time despite monopolising huge amounts of time on other arguably less important issues during the meeting.”

Labour depute council leader Cammy Day said: “My group had been briefed on the secure units by the directorate and we were content with the outcome of the report and the work that has been done behind the scenes and didn't feel there was a requirement to have a further debate about it.

“If you ask survivors of abuse they say they do not want it politicised and for me that’s what the Conservative party is doing on this.

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"The report was commended by members of Governance Risk and Best Value (GRBV) committee, including members of the Tory party, so people were quite content the investigations had been done robustly, the outcomes were satisfactory and the council had dealt with it appropriately.”

Lib Dem leader Robert Aldridge said GRBV had discussed the matter in private for two or three hours so it had already had “a good airing”.

“I don't think anyone was deliberately trying to curtail debate. We were quite happy to have the debate if it it was in time.”

Tory group leader Iain Whyte denied Tories had talked too much on other items. “If the public want to judge that they can look at the webcast recording and see which members were speaking most often.”

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