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Home ER Newsline Is the chair of the ERC Audit and Scrutiny Committee - actually plugged in?
Is the chair of the ERC Audit and Scrutiny Committee - actually plugged in? Print E-mail

Published 6th June 2015

TRADITIONALLY in East Renfrewshire the position of Chair of Audit and Scrutiny Committee is reserved for the leader of the opposition party.

In this latest term the opposition party were the Conservatives and at the time of forming the council the leader of the opposition was Councillor Gordon Wallace.

Therefore he was appointed as the chair of the Audit Committee.

MANY would appear to be asking if he is fit for purpose due to recent comments, however before we delve into those matters we will explore his background.

Gordon Wallace, a Conservative Councillor for the Thornliebank and Giffnock ward. He has been an elected member for approximately eight years and the chair of East Renfrewshire Council Audit and Scrutiny Committee for the past three years.

He is a butcher to trade and currently lectures at Glasgow University to students of Morrisons and demonstrates to them the most cost effective way to cut up dead animals.

Having looked at the video of him in action he certain comes across as professional in the slicing of meat, however it is his skills with regards to holding the council to account that are being questioned by some.

DURING the May 2015 meeting of Thornliebank Community Council the elected member said that Council grants were relatively small amounts of money.

When asked if a group is given £1,000 for example, and the project did not go ahead would the Council check this?

Cllr Wallace said that can cost as much to check on the spending as the grant itself so the Council didn’t bother.

In relation to the allotments Cllr Wallace said that The Climate Change Fund, insist that invoices are submitted before any money is handed out.

AT the subsequent June 2015 TCC meeting whilst conceding that he did make those comments about grants, he then attempted to explain what he actually had meant to say.

This was prefaced with the comment "I did say that M'Lud, but that was not what I meant"

HE then went on to make the most astonishing comments and presented the secretary with a copy of the draft minutes, with the councillors suggested amendments to his comments in a different coloured text and asking that the entire minutes be re written as per his draft. Whilst he admitted that the minutes were correct, "he apparently wished them altered to make him not look as silly"

(NEWSLINE is aware that this is a tactic that was used previously by Cllr Montague and was kicked into touch by the CC concerned. We are also aware that Cllr Waters attempted to have the TCC minutes altered and that was also rejected.)

Cllr Wallace said, by way of explanation and in answer to questions -

The Audit committee is concerned that,

"Transparency is important"

"We have had a good look at them and how they are handed out".

"We have spoken with Jim Sneddon and most grants are for £500 or £600".

"Local people usually know if they have been used or not".

"They are all for a relatively small amount of money".

"We do not bother to go out and inspect every project".

"At the Audit Committee we are concerned with our reputation".

"We can ask for receipts and if they are not forthcoming we can do a bit more digging".

"I am concerned that volunteers who do not use the grant within the year have to hand the money back"

"We have now got a change in the wording about the pay back of unused funds"

"I don't know if Area Forum grants received and not used within a year require to be handed back, I will need to look at that".

"One thing that we have asked at Audit is what is to stop an unscrupulous 'serial' grant applicant from making multiple applications to different funds, there is no central info bank"

"I am aware that the Climate Change Fund is reasonably well managed and that they look for background information, targets and receipts before they hand any money over"

"The allotments are on a 19 year lease and it is an eyesore at present"

"We (ERC) have not given them any money (allotments), they have been given money for a wall, but that was from the Whitelee Wind Farm Fund".

NEWSLINE has provided Cllr Gordon Wallace with three opportunities to respond, however he has failed to do so.

There are a number of areas that require to be covered and we feel that a Chair of the Council Audit and Scrutiny he should be aware of, as basics to his role.

In addition we are aware that when Cllr Wallace stood down as leader of the East Renfrewshire Conservative Group he refused to stand down from the role of Chair of Audit in favour of the new leader of the opposition Cllr McCaskill.

No reason was provided, however it may have something to do with the additional £2,000 per year that the chair of Audit is provided with by way of allowance.

"We (ERC) have not given them any money (allotments), they have been given money for a wall, but that was from the Whitelee Wind Farm Fund".

Whitelee Wind Farm Fund can best be described as an arms length quango, the grants committee comprises of Chair - Cllr Carmichael and also members of East Renfrewshire Council Staff on the panel. They allocated £18,900 to the allotments.

East Renfrewshire Council purchased Heres fencing for the allotments at a cost of £14,000. It has been in situ not for over two years and at normal rental rates should have costs the allotments association approximately £34,000.

Gordon Wallace said "We (ERC) have not given them any money (allotments)"

"I am aware that the Climate Change Fund is reasonably well managed and that they look for background information, targets and receipts before they hand any money over"

The Chair of Audit cannot even get the title correct, it is the Climate Challenge Fund" He said it not once but three times.

"I am aware that the Climate Change Fund is reasonably well managed and that they look for background information, targets and receipts before they hand any money over"

NEWSLINE has shown that whilst they ask for background information and targets, which is very easy to write up to meet the application criteria, the request for receipts is somewhat suspect.

The Treasurer of the Allotments (ENAA) allegedly resigned as he had been requested to sign cheques that were not accounted for and the Climate Challenge Fund (CCF) allegedly refused to investigate.

£28,000 was paid from the CCF direct into the account of the Thornliebank Tenants and Residents Association Account for the ENAA, apparently without receipts.

To date there is no Greenhouse, water or electricity supply, no outreach worker, no outreach material, no engagement with local schools etc, and yet CCF paid out monies for this to be undertaken.

Cllr Wallace is well aware of this, as the local Cllr for the ward and he has also had these matters highlighted to him by Newsline.

Cllr Wallace said "I am aware that the Climate Change Fund is reasonably well managed and that they look for .......receipts before they hand any money over"

"One thing that we have asked at Audit is what is to stop an unscrupulous 'serial' grant applicant from making multiple applications to different funds, there is no central info bank"

WE use Mr Google and have highlighted that within 20 minutes you can bring up any serial applicants, in addition to multiple applications that we have highlighted concerning a few individuals to UK grant funding bodies, we are aware and have highlighted potential serial ERC grant applications.

If we can undertake this from outside the council why is the chair of ERC Audit and Scrutiny asking such a question.

The 'bank' surely is the internet and the councils own e system.

Cllr Wallace said "One thing that we have asked at Audit is what is to stop an unscrupulous 'serial' grant applicant from making multiple applications to different funds, there is no central info bank"

"I am concerned that volunteers who do not use the grant within the year have to hand the money back" "We have now got a change in the wording about the pay back of unused funds".

If you apply for a grant you require a project with an achievable time scale, however if you have not undertaken the project by the end of the financial year, then we would have to suggest that your plan was flawed. The money should be returned to the council, and as they say you can then re apply the following financial year, (one day later) and if granted you will have it for another year to complete your project.

This is clearly designed to prevent fraud, and rightly so.

If one person applies for a grant, does not provide a conclusion for one, two, three years, how will the council know where the money has gone.

"We have spoken with Jim Sneddon and most grants are for £500 or £600". "Local people usually know if they have been used or not". "They are all for a relatively small amount of money". "We do not bother to go out and inspect every project". "We can ask for receipts and if they are not forthcoming we can do a bit more digging".

We would have to suggest that 100 applications a year x £500 or £600 amounts to a lot of cash, when the council is looking to cut back a lot of services.

WE have examples on this site of Giffnock CC being requested to pay cash back to ERC in relation to their big lunch, the original grant was in the region of £500.

Should the residents and tax payers of East Renfrewshire not expect their council to be frugal with their monies, surely the chair of audit must understand that in these days of austerity every penny counts.

"At the Audit Committee we are concerned with our reputation".

Giving the foregoing is it not about time that the current chair of Audit should consider his position.