Aberdeenshire Council chiefs are considering legal action against one of their own councillors in a bitter row over efforts to boost trade in the north-east’s largest town.
Lawyers are being consulted over comments by Councillor Alan Buchan alleging corruption and electoral fraud around the Peterhead business improvement district (Bid).
The local authority has denied the accusations, claiming all of what was written by Mr Buchan in his North East Weekly publication is “without foundation”.
The Peterhead North And Rattray councillor has been a vocal opponent of the Bid – and operating company Rediscover Peterhead – since its inception.
In an editorial in his free newspaper, Mr Buchan claimed the local authority had illegally spent tens of thousands on the 2017 ballot of town centre traders to set up the Bid, an organisation he branded a “con” and a “council extortion racket”.
He also alleged the council had threatened companies that refused to pay the mandatory levy with bankruptcy.
Urging traders with a say to vote down the renewal of the Bid in the upcoming, quinquennial poll on its future, Mr Buchan also alleged “everything will be done to rig the ballot”.
Council: Peterhead Bid allegations are ‘without any foundation’
An Aberdeenshire Council spokesman said: “We have read in detail what Councillor Buchan has published.
“We are seeking legal advice on these allegations, all of which are without any foundation.”
Rediscover Peterhead was asked to comment but a spokesman refused, claiming staff were instead focused on improving things for businesses in the town.
It is understood these latest comments are viewed as “the usual” from Mr Buchan, given his outspoken criticism of the scheme over the last four years.
Aberdeen Journals also understands the legalities surrounding the upcoming ballot are currently being probed, after a Peterhead trader offered £100 vouchers to anyone who voted to bin the Bid.
In 2017, only 12 votes were the difference in the vote – with just 138 of the 228 eligible businesses choosing to cast their ballot at all.
The local authority collects the money on behalf of Rediscover Peterhead, an additional charge on top of business rates which is ringfenced for the Bid.
Bosses announced the Bid levy – roughly £300 for most – would be halved between September 2020 and this August because of Covid.
They also set up a fund to help local traders make the move to online sales and made grants available to fund the purchase of PPE due to the pandemic.
This weekend, they are hosting a market in the town centre as part of the annual Scottish Week celebrations.