Steven Purcell's resignation as Glasgow Council leader was officially due to "stress and exhaustion" partly caused by the recent expenses scandal involving Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT). We now know this not to be true. I have however been at the forefront of the campaign against Labour councillors who have abused public money as members of the transport quango SPT.
This abuse has involved foreign junkets and lavish hotels. Labour councillors and SPT officials ran up a bill of over £100,000 which included travelling to India, China, USA and Italy to "study" public transport. SPT responsibilities are few since local government reorganisation in Scotland in the 90s with only the ferry and underground network being major areas of oversight as well as subsidising bus routes but it operates with a budget of nearly £50m of taxpayer money. These expenses are particularly galling at a time of job cuts and services being scrapped. In addition to exorbitant expenses, SPT has spent over £3m of the public's hard earned cash on advertising and consultants.
I formally reported the expenses scandal to Strathclyde Police after concerns about possible fraudulent claims by SPT officials. Audit Scotland is also looking into the issue. Three Labour councillors have stepped down from SPT in light of the complaints, including the chairman from Glasgow City Council, who
received £20,000 on top of his basic councillor allowance, and the chief executive of SPT who was on over £120,000 – and, it is claimed it the media, was installed as the head of the quango by Purcell.
What is disappointing is despite this scandal the new chairman and vice chairman are Labour councillors and this is not reflective of the new political make-up in the local authorities which SPT covers as an organisation. The SPT expenses scandal exposes the Labour party's misuse of public money but the recent revelations about Willie Haughey – a major donor to Labour – demonstrates what many in the press are calling 'corruption' at the very heart of the Labour party.
It is claimed in the Sunday newspapers that Haughey was closely involved with Purcell even discussing the former leader of Glasgow City Council's resignation. Haughey is a multi-millionaire and his estimated £100m fortune has been built on, according to the media, deals agreed with public sector organisations, most notably the Labour-run Glasgow City Council.
Allegations, in one of Scotland's biggest selling broadsheet, include Purcell giving Haughey access and close friends of Haughey being appointed to key senior jobs in Glasgow City Council. It is reported that Purcell chaired a meeting which approved a £1m payout to Haughey for relocation of one of his business. It is also said in the press that Haughey was a major beneficiary of other decisions taken by Purcell during his time as Council leader. Haughey built his business empire in the Gorbals area of Glasgow where he started a refrigeration company. His loyalty to Labour was rewarded when Gordon Brown opened the new headquarters of Haughey's refrigeration company.
I have been advised that Haughey has given more than £1m to Labour since 2003 – he has also apparently donated to Jim Murphy who is the secretary for state but also the incumbent MP in one of the Conservative party's top target seats in Scotland.
Haughey's importance is emphasised when it is said he was invited to a private dinner by the Prime Minister in Glasgow in 2009. Purcell and Haughey's links may be evidence according to commentators of high profile figures in or connected with Labour getting access and financial reward in Glasgow. The most prolific and infamous example is when Haughey was offered compensation of £7m for two properties which were in the path of the M74 extension in Glasgow. However, it is claimed in the press that Jack McConnell, the Labour First Minister at the time, raised this to £13m.
It is reported that Haughey sought contracts from publicly funded quangos and Glasgow City Council, for example City Building rewarded two contracts to Haughey's firm. City Building is an arms length organisation set-up by Glasgow City Council and its chief executive is married to a Labour councillor – a former Labour party employee also sits on the board. According to the media, the wage bill for the directors has shot up over the past couple of years too.
As a result of all these revelations a full inquiry is needed into possible corruption at the heart of Labour. I am working closely with colleagues on this and call for an official investigation on decisions taken by Purcell during his time as leader of Glasgow City Council. For example, in relation to serious and organised crime, why did Purcell refuse to debate a competent motion on the matter in the Council Chamber – was it because of his links as reported in the press at the weekend?
Following other media claims I am concerned about who may have been given access to public sector contracts. If true it would be a devastating indictment of the Labour administration running Glasgow. It is time for answers.