Gathering inquiry finds city chiefs' evidence 'not credible'

Share this article

A HOLYROOD investigation into the loss-making Gathering event has dismissed evidence from council chiefs as "not credible".

City council leader Jenny Dawe and her deputy, Steve Cardownie, were quizzed by the Scottish Parliament's audit committee, along with then chief executive Tom Aitchison and senior official Jim Inch.

In its report, published today, the committee said they had presented conflicting versions of events and it did not consider the accounts given by the council witnesses to be "credible".

It also urged the council to hold its own inquiry into the contradictory evidence.

The Gathering, a two-day clan event in Holyrood Park in July 2009, was organised by a private company, supported with almost 490,000 of grants from public bodies, followed by a 180,000 Scottish Government loan, but ended up making a loss of 516,000.

Cllr Cardownie today rejected the claims and said the council was being "lambasted for what was done with laudable intent".

Much of today's report focuses on efforts by the Scottish Government and the city council to find a buyer for the company, The Gathering 2009 Ltd, so that similar events could be staged in the future and the issuing of a press release announcing that council-backed tourism body Dema would take it over along with its outstanding 344,000 debts. But the deal fell through when Dema said it could not take on these liabilities.

The committee noted that Cllr Dawe, Cllr Cardownie, Mr Aitchison and Mr Inch could not recollect their discussions of the press release at a meeting on October 14.

The report said: "The chief executive was clear the press release could not confirm that Dema would take over the company. However, other council officials confirmed that no changes were requested to be made to the Dema wording. The committee cannot reconcile these two contradictory accounts."

It continued: "The committee has serious concerns regarding the quality of the oral evidence from the council witnesses and does not consider their evidence to be credible."

Today's report also highlighted a meeting on October 13 between Mr Inch and Sir John Elvidge when they discussed the possibility of Dema taking over.

It said: "Sir John Elvidge understood that if the council (through Dema] took on the company, it would also meet the private sector liabilities of the company. Jim Inch, however, was clear that the council would support a future event but could not take on the liabilities.

"The committee was concerned that two senior officials had inconsistent interpretations of the same meeting."

The report also highlighted the 180,000 loan made to The Gathering 2009 Ltd and said it was unclear whether alternatives to public sector funding had been fully explored.

It also said Sir John Elvidge should have been told of the loan since it was the first time cash had been given to a private company in this way.

The report added: "The committee is concerned no internal audit has ever been undertaken by the Scottish Government in relation to The Gathering 2009."

Cllr Cardownie today hit back at the criticism, saying: "The intention was to make good the debt to local businesses, safeguard the event and look forward to future events that would be better organised. There was no intent to dupe the public or railroad Dema."