Edinburgh secure units scandal: Council officials quizzed in private meeting ahead of elections

Councillors have quizzed officials in private on the latest allegations about Edinburgh’s secure units.
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Revelations that an inquiry into the secure accommodation was ordered by chief executive Andrew Kerr in 2017 but not implemented and claims that the council allowed a vulnerable young woman to live with a care worker suspected of sexual abuse prompted Tory group leader Iain Whyte to call for an emergency education committee meeting which was held less than 48 hours before the council elections.

But the authority’s legal chief Nick Smith advised the matters could not be discussed in public at this stage because it could affect ongoing processes involving individuals. He said it was possible some of the information could be debated in public in future as matters progressed.

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Councillors pressed for at least some discussion in public but Mr Smith said he did not believe that was possible and the committee voted to accept his advice.

Convener Ian Perry said he agreed it was fundamentally important for public confidence that as much as possible was debated in public. He said: “There is no attempt to hide anything by putting this on a B agenda.”

He said officials would be asked to redraft the report to separate matters that had to remain confidential and others which might be debated publicly.

And he said, in addition, they would be asked to go back and look at the confidential report, considered at the March full council, which found “illegality, maladministration and injustice” in Edinburgh’s secure accommodation to see if any of that could now be made public.

Iain Whyte (left) said it was 'extremely frustrating' that chief executive Andrew Kerr's report had to be discussed in private.Iain Whyte (left) said it was 'extremely frustrating' that chief executive Andrew Kerr's report had to be discussed in private.
Iain Whyte (left) said it was 'extremely frustrating' that chief executive Andrew Kerr's report had to be discussed in private.
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Mr Kerr gave a report to councillors in the private session and a deputation from a whistleblowers group and representations from two ward councillors were also heard in private.

After the meeting, Councillor Whyte said it was “extremely frustrating” it all had to be held in private. “I don’t think the council can reassure the public unless we get to a stage where we can have discussions in public. Questions about how past wrongdoing has been handled will remain for a while.”

But he said it had been right to call the emergency meeting. "It allowed a number of questions to be asked of offices and enabled some scrutiny of actions backwards, but also gave quite a bit of reassurance going forwards.”

And he said councillors from other parties had also asked many questions of officers.

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"But it’s a great shame that so little is available to the public because you get to the bottom of these issues and provide good services by shining sunlight on them and that’s how you can reassure people and ensure in the future wrongdoing can’t be covered up.

"There will be a report to the new education committee and I would hope that will be in two parts so that at least some of it can be discussed in public.

“Probably the most reassuring thing was steps that are being taken now to listen to the young people in the service, but it will be for the new committee to make sure that is carried through."