LORD Provost Frank Ross is facing a public hearing in front of the Standards Commission next month over his failure to declare his interest in a Highland hotel.
A complaint was made against Councillor Ross after it emerged in April – at the height of the local election campaign – that he had not listed his stake in the ownership of the Silverfjord Hotel in Kingussie in his local authority register of interests.
The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life carried out an investigation and said in his opinion Cllr Ross had breached the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.
He referred the matter to the Standards Commission and now the commission has fixed a hearing for November 29.
If a complaint is upheld, the commission has the power to censure, suspend or even disqualify councillors.
Cllr Ross is a major shareholder in Silverfjord Kingussie Ltd, a company that paid £160,000 for the 11-bedroom hotel in October 2016.
But he failed to add the purchase to his entry in the councillors’ register of interests.
The hotel was marketed as having five en-suite letting bedrooms, three owner bedrooms and three staff bedrooms, plus a bar-diner for up to 35 people and function room for 40.
When his omission was revealed, Cllr Ross said: “It should be on the register. I’ll need to check that. As far as I was concerned, I’d registered it. If I’m being honest, I’ve never gone back and double-checked it’s been put in there.”
Cllr Ross, who was leader of the SNP group and deputy leader of the council at the time, issued an apology to fellow SNP candidates in the May elections. In an e-mail he wrote: “I and nearly everyone I have spoken to regard this as a non-story but I apologise if this has caused you any discomfort in your respective campaigns.” But he also claimed Labour had brought the matter up for political advantage. “The timing is clear – there is a council election under way.”
Public records show Mr Ross and his family set up Silverfjord Kingussie Ltd in February 2015. Mr Ross, his wife and their son and daughter were the company’s directors, with Mr Ross owning 82 per cent of the shares and the others owning six per cent each.
Cllr Ross had already caused controversy earlier in the election campaign by using an article in the Evening News to accuse unionist parties of only calling themselves “Scottish” as a marketing exercise to win votes.
After the election he was replaced as SNP group leader by Cllr Adam McVey, but then became Lord Provost under the coalition deal between the SNP and Labour.
A Standards Commission spokeswoman said: “The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life investigated a complaint about Cllr Ross and concluded that, in his view, there appeared to have been a breach of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct. The CESPLS referred the matter to the Standards Commission. The Standards Commission considered a report produced by the CESPLS and decided to hold a hearing. A hearing panel will consider all evidence and submissions made at the hearing before determining whether or not there has been a breach of the code and, if so, what sanction to apply.”