Saturday, 23 April 2011

Alternative Car Park

The story starts with the Gourlaw/Newbigging/Shewington Opencast Community Fund (commonly known as the Gourlaw Fund), administered by Midlothian Council. Into this fund goes 25p for every tonne of coal extracted from the open cast coal mine just outside Rosewell, to be used for local environmental improvements.

In March 2008, Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic Junior Football Club (BRAJFC) applied to the fund for £37,500, as matched funding towards £75,000 to be spent on provision of a car park, for use by the club on match days and the community the rest of the week. A covering letter and roughly drawn sketch are all the council received in support of the application. A brief item appeared on the agenda of the Gourlaw sub-committee of Midlothian Council.

However, two years later, the car park looks like this.

This state of affairs came to light when Poltonhall & District Community Council started asking questions - as they had unsuccessfully bid for funding from the Gourlaw Fund, and the matter reached the local paper

A fellow community councillor submitted a Freedom of Information Request (FoI) to find out what happened to the money and my involvement began when I read the response from Midlothian Council to the FoI request, and which implied that information may never be released.

I then submitted three FoIs, requesting details of payments made by the council to BRAJFC and a copy of all the documents held by the council as part of its "Following the public pound" procedure, under which, for funding over £30,000, Midlothian Council should have rigorously applied a risk mitigation process. This includes retaining detailed funding conditions (accepted by Bonnyrigg Rose in writing), financial controls, monitoring of expected spending against actual, audited financial statements, retention of all invoices and receipts with an adequate audit trail, along with a written agreement from Bonnyrigg Rose that it indemnifies the council against unlawful acts. There should also be evidence of competitive tendering as public funding is involved. It transpired that none of this was held, apart from a copy of the club's 2008 accounts which the council refused to release.

There then came forward claims that the work had actually been competed, reported here and here in the Advertiser. I have formally asked Bonnyrigg Rose if I can examine their accounts, as all those involved in the club say they have nothing to hide and the bad publicity is damaging the club, and it would be in the club's interest to clear its name. However, my requests have been turned down.

The council has been conducting an internal investigation, lasting six months, and the findings have just been released in private to the Council's audit committee. The council has also issued a statement saying "An internal investigation into this matter has been completed, with information passed to Lothian and Borders Police.  A number of areas of concern within the council's processes have been identified and work is underway to strengthen procedures".

Clearly something has gone wrong if Inspector Knacker is now involved. But the last part of the council's statement is ironic as the "Following the Public Pound" procedure was introduced in 2006 following a poor report from Audit Scotland, so the council could, er, strengthen procedures.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting story, I bet there's a lot more to come. I was intrigued by the response of the council to the FOI. I have a similar response to a request for an FOI last year; but only from 1 Department of the council, not all.
    I also have a blog if anyone is interested