Aug 2 2012 By Louise Reilly
SCOTLAND’S spending watchdogs have completed a probe into allegations of cronyism and jobs for the boys within South Lanarkshire Council.
The Accounts Commission Scotland said their audit into the claims had “not identified any clear evidence of wrong doing”.
However, the commission’s controller of audit, Fraser McKinlay, admitted that many of the accusations – made in an eight-page letter said to have been sent by ‘Whistleblowers’ – “remained untested due to lack of evidence”.
Now key elements of the allegations are to be considered by the council’s monitoring officer, head of legal services, Geraldine McCann.
Mr McKinlay said she would determine whether “any further internal review was appropriate”.
Council leader Eddie McAvoy welcomed the conclusion to the commission’s audit saying: “The claims in the anonymous letter were a lot of lies from people trying to cause problems for the council for their own ends.”
Copies of the unsigned letter, dated November, 2011, were sent to the News and the auditor general for Scotland, Robert Black, and the chairman and deputy chairman of the Accounts Commission for Scotland.
It purportedly came from a “group of senior managers within the council” who said they were “no longer willing to sit back and watch the council degenerate into a second-rate organisation due to the inappropriate behaviour of the ruling Labour Group”.
The letter criticised the tendency within South Lanarkshire Council of appointing internal candidates to senior management positions – a point made by the Accounts Commission themselves following an audit of the council in 2009.
Questions were also asked in the letter about the appointment to council jobs of relatives and friends of senior councillors, standards of conduct among councillors and financial control.
The letter called on the commission to conduct an investigation. In February, the commission announced their intention to “carry out some audit work around the issues raised”.
Mr Findlay presented his findings at a meeting of the Accounts Commission for Scotland.
He said: “Having conducted some initial investigations, my view is that, while the anonymous letter was reasonably well informed, aspects were imprecise and exaggerated in places – our audit work has not identified any clear evidence of wrongdoing.
“However, there were elements of the allegations that remained untested due to a lack of evidence to either prove or disprove the allegations.”
Council chief executive Lindsay Freeland gave assurances to the commission about recruitment and agreed to provide evidence of this as part of the annual audit process. It would be monitored by the council’s external auditors.
A spokesman for the council said the auditors carried out their work “with the complete co-operation of the council”.
He added: “They were assured to the extent that the matter was referred to the council’s monitoring officer to consider whether any other work was required.
“There is a due process to be followed in considering the need for any other work and the outcome will be reported back to (them) in due course.
“The council remain committed to the highest levels of probity and governance in all of their activities.”