Inquiry call as more council staff suspended

THE main opposition group on Argyll and Bute Council has called for an independent inquiry after the suspension of two more members of the authority’s communications team.

A media statement issued by the SNP group on Sunday referred to “council insiders who are fearful of their own jobs” as having stated that Dinah McKay and Janet West had been suspended after criticising senior officials on a private messaging system used by the authority.

SNP group leader Robert Macintyre and group leader-elect Roddy McCuish have written jointly to chief executive Sally Loudon urging a full, independent examination of the authority’s communications team, with a remit agreed to, and supervised, by elected councillors from all parties.

The suspension of the two employees came some eight weeks after communications manager Jo Smith was similarly suspended over allegations that she had used social media to monitor the activities of critics of the council.

A brief news item was posted on the council’s website on Friday evening stating: “Two members of council staff have been suspended pending an investigation.

“This investigation does not relate to any other investigation being undertaken by the council.”

Cllr MacCuish said: “Senior officers in the council are now spying on their own staff. If they don’t like what they see – they are suspending them.

“Let’s be honest, this administration hates any criticism and will go to any length to stamp it out.

“But we are in Argyll and Bute, not Stalingrad, and people have a right to their own opinion whether bosses like it or not.”

Cllr Macintyre added: “We called for a full independent investigation when Jo Smith was suspended but were brushed off by the current administration leader, Dick Walsh, who was keen to sweep the whole matter under the carpet.

“The vouncil’s chief executive commissioned a review with a narrow scope and with one external consultant, chosen by herself.

“Now we see that this was a completely inadequate response. Certainly it smacks of the way things have been done by the current administration – shoddy, secretive and second rate. We now need something much more wide ranging, open and honest.

“That is why Roddy MacCuish and I have written to the chief executive today demanding a full independent examination of the press department with a remit agreed by all councillors and with political supervision by the whole council.

“We have suggested, in this period of purdah, a way in which this could be done involving group leaders and I am asking the chief executive to move on this issue with urgency, given the damage that these revelations are doing to the reputation of Argyll and Bute Council and its ability to function effectively and efficiently.”

Cllr MacCuish added: “If there had been the right, open and democratic reaction when the first incident occurred, we most probably would not be where we are today.”