Labour faces police probe into council 'corruption'
POLICE are examining allegations of corruption at a Scottish council which are believed to involve Labour politicians accepting "sweeteners" in return for nodding through land deals.
Councillors in North Lanarkshire could face prosecution over the complaints, which have been made by a fellow Labour member who claims he is blowing the whistle on a long-standing culture of sleaze.
The councillor, Sam Love, is understood to have alleged that councillors were bribed to pass planning applications from a construction firm.
His fellow councillors also stand accused of accepting hospitality from the building firm without declaring it in their register of interests, as they are required to do.
The affair is all the more damaging for Labour as it centres on the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency of First Minister Jack McConnell. It is also the latest in a string of scandals to hit Labour in Lanarkshire.
Love, who lives in Wishaw, contacted police last week handing in a dossier of evidence against elected members of the Labour-dominated council.
Sources say the claims of sleaze first emerged within the authority about two years ago, when councillors were warned about inappropriate links to the construction company. Councillors are said to have accepted free trips to watch Celtic, Rangers and Motherwell games, but then failed to declare them.
Strathclyde police yesterday said they would be examining the matter. A spokeswoman said: "We can confirm we have received a report and we are considering the matter with a view to investigation."
Four years ago, McConnell was damaged by the so-called 'Wishawgate' row, following claims that 11,000 of funds from the First Minister's constituency party had gone missing.
The area was also hit by the Monklands cronyism scandal in the mid-1990s when it was alleged that council jobs were being reserved for friends and relatives of councillors. It was further alleged that a mainly Catholic ruling group of councillors was biased towards the mainly Catholic town of Coatbridge when spending decisions were made, and that the mainly Protestant town of Airdrie lost out. No malpractice was found by a government inquiry.
Love refused to comment on his allegations yesterday.
However, one councillor said: "There have been rumours going on for more than 12 months to do with the acquisition of land."
Another added: "It is things like hospitality to Celtic games, and then things in brown paper bags that are alleged."
A well-placed Labour source in Lanarkshire added: "The whips in the Labour group told [them] to no longer accept hospitality after it was raised two years ago when they first began accepting things.
"But nothing was done, so they continued to behave as they had done previously. The company have targeted a number of councillors. Those councillors have never registered any of these gifts. Sam Love believes that they are bribing councillors. Now everyone is under suspicion," the insider added.
Opposition leaders at North Lanarkshire are demanding a full inquiry.
Richard Lyle, the leader of the SNP group, said: "I would welcome an investigation. If people have broken the law, then they should face the consequences."
Alex Neil, the Nationalist MSP for Central Scotland, added: "If these allegations are true, it is highly embarrassing for the First Minister. It is high time that Jack McConnell cleaned up his own back yard."
A spokesman for the Scottish Labour party said: "The Labour party expects the highest standards of all our councillors. If any councillors have been found to have broken the law then we will take appropriate action."
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