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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.

 

 

 
Is it time to call time on the quangoes? Print E-mail

Published 31st May 2015

THE Scottish Government runs a programme called 'The Climate Challenge Fund' (CCF) and to date £66.3 million has been issued via the Climate Challenge Fund by way of grants by Keep Scotland Beautiful.

Although it is a Scottish Government programme, it is managed and developed by Keep Scotland Beautiful, which is an arms length charity.

Over 500 communities across Scotland have been awarded Climate Challenge Fund grants to run community-led projects that reduce local carbon emissions, improve their local areas and help them adapt to the impacts of climate change, including three in East Renfrewshire.

The question is, are they accountable, and if not are they open to abuse?

THE three current projects on the CCF web site are:-

East Renfrewshire BME Community Climate Change and Low-Carbon Living Awareness Programme Woodfarm Educational Trust

£142,377

East Renfrewshire BME Community Climate Change and Low-Carbon Living Awareness Programme is a project run by Woodfarm Educational Trust that will work with the BME community in East Renfrewshire to reduce carbon emissions caused by home energy use and raise awareness of fuel poverty and climate change. The project will also decrease carbon emissions through installation of energy efficiency measures in the Woodfarm Education Centre while a decrease in car journeys will be targeted through promotion of healthy, lower carbon transport choices like cycling and walking.

Eastwood Nursery Allotments

Eastwood Nursery

£33,135

A local community driven project is converting a derelict site within Eastwood Park, East Renfrewshire into allotments and delivering food waste reduction programmes and gardening advice to local residents and schoolchildren. Thornliebank TRA, Giffnock and Thornliebank Community Councils and the Woodfarm residents group have joined forces to help clear an overgrown site to make vegetable plots, greenhouses and polytunnels and raised beds available to the local residents, schools and nurseries. Disadvantaged: people with disabilities.

Giffnock Recycling Bike & Food waste Reduction

Big Green Feet CiC

£54,142

Giffnock Recycling Bike & Food Waste Reduction is a project run by local Community Interest Company Big Green Feet in partnership with Giffnock Business Improvement District. The project will collect food waste from local shops, restaurants and cafes by cargo bike instead of lorry and transport it to a new anaerobic digester where it will be converted into compost. The project will also raise community awareness of food waste through Giffnock Business Improvement District events and a marketing programme developed with local shops and restaurants.

NEWSLINE submitted a Freedom of Information request (FOI) to the Scottish Government regarding the latest funding grant to Green Feet, however we have now been informed that the Scottish Government do not hold any information regarding this as it is devolved to the Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB) Quango.

As they are a charity they are not subject to FOI therefore we would have to ask where is the accountability as to the spending of our taxpayers cash.

AS we have seen from our exploration of the grant to the allotments, receipts are something of a mystery as are the other 'requirements' for the grant.

AS can be seen we have also covered the story of the bike that will supposedly ride around local shops collecting waste, and ridden by volunteers taking the rubbish to an unknown location.

Without proper accountability just how can the public be satisfied that our money is being used responsibly.

One of the KSB criteria for the grant is to provide a before and after photograph, we have seen how well that worked at the allotments.

Perhaps on this occasion it will be a photograph of someone without a bike, and then standing with one.


 

 
Provost Carmichael took a 200-yard trip in a chauffeur-driven BMW - Paid by the public of East Ren Print E-mail

Published 9th April 2015

PROVOST Alastair Carmichael took a 200-yard trip in a chauffeur-driven BMW in order to attend an apparent activity that was not listed on the Provosts official Council engagements.

On Sunday 25th January 2015 Provost Carmichael had the Council chauffeur attend on his day off at Thornliebank Depot and uplift the council car, which is a BMW 520se, registration number HSO and meet him at Council Headquarters, Eastwood Park.

He then required to drive the Provost 200 yards to Giffnock South Parish Church where he attended a normal Sunday service and was driven back to Eastwood Park.

For those unfamiliar with the area the council headquarters is on the west side of Eastwood Toll and the church is on the east side.

This raises a number of questions;

Why in these days of apparent austerity would the Provost be authorising the use of the official council car and the overtime payment (day off rates) to the chauffeur when he could have just walked the 200 yards, or driven there himself in his own car.

Why was this not listed in his official list of engagements for January 2015?

Why was he there in the first place, what was his purpose?

LETS put to bed the falsehood that tends to be rolled out time and again by the Provost that his chain of office is valued at hundreds of thousands of pounds and he simply 'could not travel by bus', for fear of being robbed.

As a result of an FOI we have learnt that this chain is insured for £6,000.


We are also aware that the chain is made of tin plate and scrap value would be minimal, the insurance value would appear to reflect its status rather that its actual monetary value.

AT full council meetings there is a requirement for the Deputy Chief Executive to report of the Provosts engagements.

The following format is used "Since the last meeting of the Council, the Provost has attended a number of civic engagements on behalf of the Council and carried out a number of civic duties. Details are as follows:-"

However there is no listing of the visit to Giffnock South Parish Church as an official council engagement.

WHY would Alastair Carmichael role out the official car, chauffeur and his chain of office for a normal church service.

Could it have anything to do with this man.


Savio D'Souza and Cllr Carmichael

Much more to follow..........................

 
Is the convenor for the environment in the huff ? Print E-mail

Published 9th April 2015

COUNCILLOR Vincent Waters has suddenly stopped attending Thornliebank Community Council meetings without providing any explanation.

He has never been to any meetings since December 2014 where he was requested to stop playing with his electronic device by the chair of the CC.

January / February / March and April there have been no sightings of Cllr Waters and no apologies for his non attendance.

This leaves speculation that he does not like being told off and has thrown his teddy out of the pram over the issue.

NEWSLINE contacted him and provided him with the opportunity to comment, however he failed to respond.

Cllr Waters

 
Have Giffnock Community Council called time on ‘Embracing’ the community? Print E-mail

Published 28th March 2015

In December 2011 a sculpture was unveiled in Giffnock as part of plans to make the area a business and shopping hotspot, however it would appear that the community council wish it to be removed and re-located in Clarkston.

rings.jpg



The venture was led by Giffnock Community Council and funded by East Renfrewshire Council, the Big Lottery and contributions from Prem Glasgow LLP and Whole Foods.

The council contribution alone was £51,290 plus VAT.

The total cost is thought to be in excess of £80,000 for the placing of the artwork, by artist Jephson Robb, entitled "Embrace" which is sited just outside the Whole Foods Market.

At that time the Community Council Chairman, Hugh Moore said: "Composed of two interconnecting rings, the polished bronze sculpture creates a special sense of place and a focal point for Giffnock.

"It represents the welcome embrace the Giffnock community has to offer from the old to the young, from all faiths and cultures, and the unseen work that many volunteers and voluntary groups provide through the community.

"We felt it was time Giffnock had something special at its heart."

Artist Jephson Robb said at the time: "I worked with pupils from St Ninian's and Woodfarm High Schools and they showed great interest in the project.

"The pupils understood the design as a reflection on Giffnock's origins and past as well as it being very much a sculpture for its future. They felt it would create a strong identity for the area."

However according to the Community Council minutes of January 2015 it would appear that they wish it to be removed.

Just what public consultation has gone on regarding this is unknown, it is also unknown if the original financial contributors have given approval or indeed the recently established Giffnock ‘Bid’.

What is very interesting it that the proposal is to re – site the sculpture in Clarkston, on the site of the new Health Centre.

The Giffnock CC minutes state “Health & Education – WK reported on the recent meeting held with CHCP (now the Health & Social Care Partnership)about the new Health Centre (construction started) Consideration will be given to the possible relocation of the GCC Sculpture in the Health Centre precincts.”

We have contacted GCC and provided them with an opportunity to comment, particularly as to how they would propose to finance the removal of such an item which required the commissioning of a special base due to its extreme weight, however they have refused to do so.

 
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