SNP says probe into wall row ‘not good enough’ after it reveals catalogue of failures

The SNP has claimed an investigation into public money spent on a wall belonging to the family of a former councillor raise “more questions than answers”.

But former finance convener Willie Young, whose father owns the wall at the centre of the row, said he feels “absolutely vindicated” by the investigation’s findings.

In April, it emerged the cycle pathways body Sustrans, which is 79% taxpayer funded, provided the £200,000 budget for repairs in the Ferryhill street – near Mr Young’s home – without the project being scrutinised by a council committee.

An internal investigation, the findings of which were made public for the first time yesterday, reveal a catalogue of failures, including that “no record” was kept of the actions taken and why.

The report said the cycle path, which is part of a national network, was damaged by a storm during the 2015/16 financial year and funding was sought by council officers from Sustrans to repair land slippage and damage to that section.

The findings state funding was arranged “solely through e-mail”, largely due to the “urgency” of the situation, but committee approval should have been sought to allow scrutiny by councillors.

They added that “with hindsight” officers should have sought advice from legal colleagues “as soon as they believed” Councillor Young to be the landowner, to obtain a legal opinion.

The internal investigation tried to determine whether there was “any misconduct or criminality” by Aberdeen City Council staff.

But the report said it has “not been possible” to gather sufficient evidence to hold council employees accountable for any “inaction or negligence”.

Parts of the report are redacted, along with an entire second appendix into the investigation, because it contains “confidential information” the council said could breach data protection legislation if published.

SNP group leader Stephen Flynn said: “The public will likely still have more questions than answers on the back of this report and that, quite frankly, isn’t good enough.

“In April, former councillor Dickson raised a number of points and although this report has now been released the people of Aberdeen will likely still feel that these have yet to be answered.

“That being the case I am comforted that the report will be going to Audit Scotland as they are well-placed as an independent authority to make a reasoned assessment into both the investigation, and the findings.”

The investigation report said it was “appropriate” for Mr Young to seek advice from the council’s monitoring officer to address any perception that he was conflicted in his interests.

It added: “The monitoring officer has stated that based on the information, Councillor Young did not require to declare a conflict of interest because he had not been asked to make a decision as a councillor on the works or the grant, but to provide his consent as supposed landowner.”

Mr Young said he feels “absolutely vindicated” by the findings of the investigation, which he said state on record that the Sustrans cash was used for work to a national cycle network.

He added: “I have been vindicated in that I did no wrong.

“They (the SNP) tried to paint me as a person that was taking public money for a wall.

“It was nothing to do with the wall, it was to do with a cycle access and public walkway and that is what has been proved. The only people that will benefit are the public.

“It’s why Sustrans gave the money in the first place.”

But the former finance convener said there had been “some real serious failures” by council officers including mistakenly believing him to be the landowner, rather than his father.

He added: “The council should have checked who owned the land. I didn’t know it was in the family.

“I have been absolutely vindicated and now I need to see if I will take legal action.”

Mr Young said he had been given a legal opinion but was not yet certain whether he would proceed with an action.

“There is complete failings but it’s with council officers,” he said.

The investigation report added there had been a “lack of effective project governance” by staff.

It stated: “At no point was it determined which team owned the project, or which individual was ultimately responsible.

“This represents risks in terms of financial and resource management, with the potential for inefficiency and duplication.

“There is no record kept of what actions were taken and why.

“There is no record of the dates and attendance of meetings, or what was agreed.

“This means that the council is unable to prove due diligence, placing it at a legal and reputational risk, and leaving it defenceless against claims.

“It further means that when reviewing a project the council has no means by which to identify points at which its processes failed.”

The investigation also states that the council did not actually have permission to carry out the works as the landowner “had not been correctly identified”.

It added: “In such a situation the council could find itself defending legal claims for interfering with property without the landowner’s permission.

“Should the work on site lead to accident or injury, the lack of appropriate permission could potentially invalidate any supposed insurance cover.”

The findings also state: “It has not been possible to determine a single point of failure in relation to how officers managed the Wellington Brae project.”

Members of the city council’s audit and scrutiny committee will consider the report at its next meeting on Tuesday.