Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Edinburgh council leader cleared in Gathering report

Men in kilts at The Gathering
Image caption The Gathering went ahead in Edinburgh's Holyrood Park, despite the problems

Edinburgh City Council's leader and her deputy have been cleared of being "untruthful" in evidence to MSPs over the troubled clan gathering event.

The finding for Jenny Dawe and Steve Cardownie came after MSPs looking into the 2009 event questioned the credibility of their evidence.

The conclusion came in a council-commissioned report by Deloitte.

Ministers rescued The Gathering with a £180,000 loan after the firm behind it went into liquidation.

Even though The Gathering took place, the event lost £516,000, with £382,000 owed to six bodies and £344,000 owed to 103 private organisations at the time.

A subsequent investigation by the Scottish Parliament's public audit committee led its convener at the time, Labour MSP Hugh Henry, to raise concern about "inconsistent and contradictory evidence" it received from witnesses.

In particular, the committee's report found evidence from Edinburgh City Council executives was not credible, and raised concern over a press release which was said to have led creditors to mistakenly believe their outstanding invoices would be paid by an arm's-length council company, Destination Edinburgh Marketing Alliance (DEMA).

In relation to the press release, issued on 15 October, 2009 - which had not been properly signed off by the council leader - Deloitte, "found no evidence to suggest this was attributed to anything other than a series of governance and procedural deficiencies, compounded by external factors and other pressures".

The report went on: "Accordingly, no evidence has been found to support the view of the public audit committee of the Scottish Parliament that the leader and deputy leader or any officers had been untruthful in their submissions to the committee."

However, the Deloitte findings urged the council to address "weaknesses" in internal communications, including how well the leader was being kept informed on important issues.

Following the report, Ms Dawe told BBC Scotland there were issues where she would not expect to know the "fine detail", but accepted she must be better informed in future.

She added: "I did not lie to the public audit committee.

"I've said all along I was absolutely truthful in everything I said to them, and the covering report from the chief executive makes clear there are no findings that would back up the public audit committee's finding that Steve Cardownie and myself had lied to the committee."

Ms Dawe went on: "Both Steve Cardownie and myself were subject to a great deal of vilification in the council chamber, in the media, from individuals who chose to write into us.

"It was actually an extremely unpleasant time to have yourself branded a liar - especially when you pride yourself in being honest in what you do."

But Mr Henry moved to dismiss some of Deloitte's conclusions, saying: "The report glosses over the glaring weaknesses in the way that decisions were made and fails to adequately address the contradictions in evidence about who knew what and when."

But the MSP also said the report offered, "a damning indictment into a lack of communication and co-operation in the council".

"I welcome the report's recommendation that the council in the future should undertake its own due diligence and that there should be improvements in the councils internal communications."

Deloitte also said it found no evidence to dispute the council's position that it was not responsible for the money owed by the Gathering company to private firms.

A review of governance arrangements at the council is now being carried out.

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