Aberdeen City Council’s chief executive last night performed a U-turn after a chaotic day in which she tried to block the Standards Commission from holding a conduct hearing on local authority property.
Angela Scott found herself at the centre of a political storm after telling watchdog chiefs she did not think it was appropriate for council buildings to be used for the reconvened session.
Seven administration politicians are facing allegations that they broke the code of conduct by agreeing to send out pro-Union letters during the independence referendum campaign.
The hearing was adjourned on February 10 and is due to reconvene on April 15 – just 21 days before the General Election.
Mrs Scott took the view that it would be wrong to hold the event on council property during the “purdah” period.
Her decision was debated at a stormy meeting of the local authority’s urgent business committee yesterday, with opposition Liberal Democrat leader Ian Yuill claiming the council was “once again shooting itself in the foot”.
Convener of the Standards Commission Ian Gordon said he was “deeply disappointed” with the stance taken.
However, the council went on to release a letter at 7.50pm last night in which the chief executive reversed her position and said the hearing could go ahead at the Town House after all.
Five Labour, one Conservative and one non-aligned member are accused of misusing council resources for political ends.
Inevitable negative publicity around the hearing could prove damaging to Labour, which is fighting to hold on to the Aberdeen North and Aberdeen South seats at Westminster on May 7. It could also prove embarrassing for councillor Ross Thomson, who is the Conservative candidate for Aberdeen South.
At the committee meeting, Mr Yuill said: “For Aberdeen City Council to fail to provide (the Standards Commission) with every assistance sends entirely the wrong message about these councillors’ attitude to the Standards Commission and about how they conduct their business.”
SNP group leader Callum McCaig suggested political pressure had been brought to bear on the chief executive.
He added: “The Standards Commission will be the judge, regardless of how many impediments or obstructions you throw in their way.”
Council leader Jenny Laing put forward a motion to agree the decision should be made by the chief executive, which was passed over the Lib Dem amendment by seven votes to six.
Mrs Laing said: “I was there when the Standards Commission hearing took place and I will be there when it reconvenes, whether it is within these buildings or somewhere else in Aberdeen or somewhere else in Scotland. I have no fear about that.”
A spokeswoman for the Standards Commission confirmed that the council had asked that an alternative venue be found, but added that “discussions were ongoing”.
Last night, in her letter to the Commission, Mrs Scott said: “While I remain of the opinion that it would be better for the hearing to take place in a non-council venue, I have no wish to be placed in the position where I could be accused of seeking to frustrate the Commission in its work.”
SNP group spokesman Graham Dickson said: “The fact the Standards Commission were even banned in the first place shows incredibly poor judgement.”
The letter that is the subject of the hearing said Aberdeen is “stronger now and will be stronger in the future – economically, politically and socially – as a partner within the United Kingdom”.
The mass mailing went out with 110,000 council tax and 6,500 business rate demands in March last year.
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