Ex-SNP leader quizzed over £1500 gift to colleague

Steve Cardownie
Steve Cardownie

EDINBURGH’S Deputy Lord Provost was quizzed by police after handing a colleague £1500 in cash to make up for a gap in his salary.

Councillor Steve Cardownie, the former leader of the SNP group, gave fellow SNP councillor Jim Orr the “cash gift” to compensate for the latter’s loss of income following a shake-up of the committee system.

Jim Orr

Jim Orr

He was interviewed by police for two hours earlier this year after the incident was reported by Cllr Orr – but officers confirmed to the Evening News they had now dropped the investigation.

The revelation comes as it emerged Cllr Cardownie is currently being probed by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life over allegations made by Cllr Orr that he failed to disclose conflicts of interest.

It is understood the investigation centres on Cllr Cardownie’s alleged failure to declare his friendship with lobbyist David Coutts during committee meetings where Mr Coutts was acting as an agent for festival promoters and those leasing out venues.

Cllr Orr resigned the whip of the SNP group in 2014 and is now an independent.

The cash handover happened after Cllr Orr – who was then SNP transport vice-convener – discovered he was to lose a Special Responsibility Payment (SRA) given to those with “senior councillor” posts.

He said he was appointed vice-chair of the Forth Estuaries Transport Authority to help boost his salary, but was still around £1500 worse off.

In an online blog, he wrote: “By early 2013 there was still no solution to the missing £1.5k and Cardownie decided to address the issue in an unusual way – he said he’d pay it to me personally. I made it clear this was totally unacceptable.”

Cllr Cardownie handed £1500 in cash to Cllr Orr in his office at the City Chambers in an effort to settle the dispute.

Although he initially accepted the money, Cllr Orr later had second thoughts, returned it and made a complaint to the standards commission who alerted the police.

Cllr Cardownie made the payment in cash after refusing a request from Cllr Orr to send the money direct to a family in Eastern Europe.

Cllr Orr, who sent all the money he initially accepted to the family, wrote: “I’d spent two weeks of the previous year teaching English in Eastern Europe and already planned to help out the family I had stayed with at some time. I knew their youngest kid needed to pay college fees.”

Cllr Cardownie said: “The police have investigated this matter and they are completely satisfied that there’s nothing untoward about it.” He said he had paid the money out of his own wages to compensate a colleague who had lost out.

He added that he had behaved properly in all his dealings with Mr Coutts and was not “losing any sleep” over the claims.