Council leaders under fire over Gathering evidence

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PRESSURE is mounting on council leaders at the centre of a botched rescue package for The Gathering event after it emerged their evidence to a Holyrood inquiry was contradicted by Edinburgh City Council's former chief executive.

Opposition councillors claim there is growing evidence Edinburgh city leader Jenny Dawe and her deputy Steve Cardownie misled parliament when they claimed they were unaware of the details of a bailout for the troubled event.

As the pair prepare to face a no confidence motion in the council today, a letter has emerged from former city council chief executive Tom Aitchison in which he says both councillors were present at a meeting when full details of the announcement of the controversial rescue deal were agreed.

More than 100 creditors were told the council's arms-length marketing company would take on the event's liabilities - only for the council to later pull the plug on the deal.

Cllrs Dawe and Cardownie told a parliamentary inquiry into the collapse of the event, which received 490,000 in public funding and left behind debts of more than 700,000, they had been "horrified" and "aghast" at the wording of a rescue package which they said was announced without their knowledge.

But an internal investigation led by Mr Aitchison found extra efforts were made to ensure the content of a council press release revealing the deal was agreed by the council leader and her deputy, as well as senior officials, at a meeting the day before the rescue was announced on 15 October, 2009.

The pair have launched attacked the findings of the public audit committee's report, that claimed oral evidence from the council's witnesses had not been "credible", accusing MSPs of "political opportunism".

The council leaders say they are "mystified" why the committee instead preferred to believe the evidence of a "junior member of staff" - a reference to a detailed account of the meeting in Cllr Dawe's office from council media manager, Stewart Argo.

However, the council's own internal investigations into The Gathering, carried out in the wake of the collapse of the rescue deal in January of last year, matches Mr Argo's account of the aftermath of intense rescue talks between the council and the Scottish Government.

In a letter sent to the public audit committee at the conclusion of the internal investigation, Mr Aitchison said: "…The council leader convened a meeting in her office with myself, the council directors involved, the deputy leader (Cllr Cardownie], and the convenor of economic development (Tom Buchanan].

"At that meeting the general thrust of the changes which the council would require to the draft press release were agreed."

Jeremy Balfour, Tory group leader, added: "This just reinforces the view that they were either lying in their evidence or cannot remember what happened."Neither Cllr Dawe nor Cllr Cardownie could be contacted last night.