After weeks of speculation, rumour and allegation, councillors finally got the chance to debate the recent scandal involving Purcell and Glasgow City Council. The Leader of the Opposition submitted a motion which called for a full statement by the acting Leader and an independent investigation into the affair. The motion was supported by the SNP, Green Party and me. However, after an hour long and bad tempered Council meeting, Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors voted against the motion.
The amendment which was approved does not propose any action in light of the recent revelations about Steven Purcell’s illegal drug use, the visit by Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), blackmail threat and alleged links with gangsters. This complacency also fails to address the misuse of public money on Purcell’s dinners as well as the operation of Council arms length external organisations, the awarding of contracts and Labour Party donations.
However, I continue to demand a full external inquiry into Glasgow City Council and welcome the reports in the press that the police, under instruction from the Scottish Crown Office, is considering an investigation.
Conservative peer, Lord Fraser added his support and his professional experience brings weight to the growing number demanding an inquiry. Lord Fraser said, “I think there is a case for the police to look into this. Just because you’re leader of the administration doesn’t mean you should get gentle treatment.”
The police and auditors have a duty to investigate if there are reasonable grounds to suspect any wrongdoing. I maintain that there is. The recent statement by Steven Purcell has raised more questions about the scandal which led to his demise as Leader. For example:
– Which Council officers and Labour councillors knew about Purcell’s cocaine use and heavy drinking?
– Who knew about the alleged gangster links and potential threat of blackmail?
– Did anyone in Purcell’s office, which cost nearly £200,000 per annum to run, know about this and if so why didn’t they inform senior officers?
– Where did Purcell get his drugs from and who attended the parties where he claims he took the drugs?
– Why did the police not take any action following the meeting the SCDEA had with Purcell? Apparently the Council Chief Executive only recently became aware of the SCDEA visit – nearly a year after it took
– If it wasn't drug use which could make Purcell vulnerable to blackmail then what else did the SCDEA feel could have been used against him?
– Why can’t we see Purcell’s diary now that he has left office?
– Who is paying for Steven Purcell's bills? Public relations, top media lawyers, stays in rehab clinics and lengthy trips abroad cost money.
I am at a loss to understand how Steven Purcell was allowed to continue in his position as Leader of the largest local authority in Scotland. The fate of Glaswegians, city council employees and a £2bn budget was left in the hands of a man who according to media reports may not have been in control of himself.
We also need to know about the contracts awarded to Labour Party donors, the use of public money on Purcell’s lavish dinners with UK Government Ministers in the City Chambers, and donations to the Labour Party. It's also crucial we now review the working of all the arms length organisations, which Purcell set up, in light of the controversy over additional allowances, foreign travel and hospitality costs incurred by Labour and some SNP councillors. (I work full time as a councillor and the only remuneration I receive is the basic part time councillor’s allowance of £16,000 a year.)
Finally, for those of you who are wondering why this is such a big issue in Glasgow (and Scotland) should instead think why this story has not been given the attention it deserves in the English media. Imagine instead of Purcell, Labour and Glasgow being at the centre of the scandal that it was instead Boris Johnson, the Conservatives and London that was the focus. Yep, the English media would be savaging the Conservatives over this.
Let’s remember that Purcell was an integral part of the Labour machine – he regularly wined and dined with businessmen, media stars and politicians, like the Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
It’s therefore crucial we have a full independent investigation into whether Purcell's lifestyle impacted on his running of the Council. If the Labour administration has nothing to hide then show some courage and instruct the police and auditors to start a external inquiry.