Legal firm investigating Edinburgh City Council whistleblowing has been paid for other services

A councillor has raised concerns after it emerged the legal firm in charge of the council’s whistleblowing investigation has also been paid £78,000 for planning services.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 12:55 pm
Legal advice: Edinburgh's planned BioQuarter

Edinburgh City Council is set to embark on two investigations – one looking into the handling of complaints against Sean Bell, a social work manager who was found dead at Salisbury Crags, and a second inquiry into the wider culture of the council.

The council has agreed to set aside £600,000 from its reserves to fund the first investigation, but concerns have been raised that the final cost will be much higher, after the council admitted that more staff had come forward than it first envisaged, leading to more than 15,000 pages of evidence needing to be examined.

Now, the law firm hired to conduct the investigations, London-based Pinsent Masons, has been paid £78,000 by the council for advice on the development of the BioQuarter in Little France, despite the council having an in-house legal team.

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The council has refused to comment on the exact nature of the advice it purchased, saying it is legally privileged.

Fountainbridge and Craiglockhart councillor, and finance spokesperson for the council’s Conservative group, Andrew Johnstone, said: “The BioQuarter is a vast and ambitious project and it is troubling that the council needs external legal advice at this cost, especially when we know how stretched budgets are.

“However, there is also a vitally important Inquiry into the council's whistleblowing and organisational culture under way, led by an external law firm.

“If the same law firm is involved in advising the council in relation to commercial matters, we must have absolute confidence that they can do so in a way that does not in any way threaten the integrity and independence of the whistleblowing inquiry.”

In response, the depute leader Cammy Day who represents Forth for Labour, said: “The creation of Edinburgh’s Health Innovation District at BioQuarter is one of the largest development opportunities in the life sciences sector in Europe (£1 billion Gross Development Value) with the potential to bring significant social and economic benefits to the city, including the creation of around 9,000 new jobs.

“BioQuarter is developing into a world-leading destination for health innovation, and the creation of this sustainable new neighbourhood where people will come to live, learn, work, and discover is a substantial step forward.”

Portobello and Craigmillar councillor Kate Campbell, and SNP convener of the council’s housing, homeless and fair work committee, said: “We’re determined that we build back a more resilient economy with sustainability and fair work at its heart.

“We need to create good quality jobs with opportunities for training and career progression if we want to tackle poverty in our city.

“The BioQuarter has a strong record on working with local communities, and developing opportunities for young people who are facing structural inequalities, never more so than with the pandemic.

“We believe it’s right to invest to help create these jobs, and rebalance our economy away from low paid, low skilled, insecure work, so that young people, and those facing barriers, have the opportunity for a rewarding career, good working conditions and job security.”

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