Inquiry call over 'secrets' of Purcell

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GLASGOW City Council was facing fresh demands for a full investigation into its affairs last night after the admission that "hidden issues" lay behind the shock resignation of leader Steven Purcell.

The admission came from the PR expert Jack Irvine, who was drafted in to represent Purcell after he quit amid allegations of drug-taking and links with criminals.

Opposition politicians say the statement confirms that the public are being left in the dark about the Purcell affair and have demanded an investigation.

There are fears that rumour and speculation surrounding Purcell's fall are paralysing the city and the council and that Irvine's comments further fuel that.

Meanwhile, Scotland on Sunday can disclose today that an arms-length council company set up by Purcell lavished money on six-figure salaries for senior employees and on fundraising for Labour party coffers.

Irvine responded to criticism of his handling of the media surrounding Purcell by saying critics had "no idea about the hidden issues involved".

Irvine subsequently told Scotland on Sunday that "hidden issues" involved "internecine Labour strife" at City Chambers. The fresh developments come nearly two weeks after Purcell announced he was resigning as leader of Glasgow City Council, citing "stress and exhaustion". It then emerged that the 37-year-old councillor had privately admitted taking drugs, and that police had warned him he could be exposed to blackmail.

The focus was returning last night to the council leader's relationship with a complex network of councillors, businessmen and public sector chiefs, most with connections to the Labour party.

An investigation into one of Purcell's initiatives – a construction quango called City Building – found that the wage bill for senior employees doubled in just two years. Some of those who benefited were Labour members closely allied to the former leader.

The same quango also spent thousands of pounds on hospitality, including paying 2,000 for a table at a Labour party fundraiser where, among several Labour figures, it entertained Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray.

Opposition parties said the council, which has an annual budget of 2.5 billion, had to open itself up to Scotland's financial watchdog Audit Scotland to show that all due process had been followed.

Irvine, the former editor of the Scottish Sun, said "there were all sorts of wild allegations and rumours flying about" last week and he had been trying to "protect" Purcell.

Irvine said: "There are many hidden issues and many layers to this. All sorts of issues about internecine Labour strife, and Old Labour versus New Labour in the council.

"It was not in my client's interests for all this internecine stuff to come out."

SNP MP for Glasgow East John Mason said last night: "What the comments from Jack Irvine underline is that somebody from outside must now come in to look at the council. I don't think the council can move on until a body like Audit Scotland runs the rule over everything."

Bill Aitken, justice spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, and a former Glasgow city councillor said: "It is now absolutely imperative that someone in the council, most probably the deputy leader, gives a full statement as to what has been going on here.

"I would have thought that the appropriate way forward would be to have a special meeting of the council in order that the matters could be examined. I find it disappointing, to say the least, that this has not yet happened."

Purcell is now abroad recuperating, having suffered a breakdown. After resigning last week, it emerged that in May last year he had been visited by police from the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA) and warned that he could be leaving himself exposed to blackmail. Purcell had privately admitted afterwards that he had been taking cocaine.

Those revelations have prompted a tide of rumour and innuendo across Glasgow over the last week, focusing on the former leader's dealings in the city. But friends say any suggestions of corruption within the leader's office are without foundation; they say he was guilty rather of trying to be "everyone's friend".

SNP councillor Billy McAllister has now written to the council's chief executive, George Black, with a series of questions about the ruling Labour group.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Holyrood magazine, former director-general of the SCDEA, Graeme Pearson, said reports that members of Glasgow City Council had known of Purcell's alleged cocaine use but failed to report it were concerning.

Pearson said: "There seems to have been a knowledge among some people that there was a habit there, and that surprises me, to be quite blunt. Anybody in public life who is committing a crime by accessing drugs should not be tolerated, full stop."

A spokesman for the council denied that the smooth running of the city was affected in any way by Purcell's problems.