Marilyne MacLaren under pressure to resign after damning report

EDUCATION leader Marilyne MacLaren was under pressure to resign today after a damning report ruled that she broke the councillors' code of conduct by falsely accusing a parent of leaking information to the Evening News.

The independent investigation report – which was itself leaked to the Evening News by a council source – concludes that Councillor MacLaren should apologise to Lynda Flex, whom she ordered to be expelled from the group set up to discuss school closures.

The report's author, former head of corporate services Dr Ralph Musgrave, was unable to identify the source of the leaks and said the evidence against Mrs Flex "is, at best, circumstantial and not incontrovertible". He called for Mrs Flex to be reinstated on the forum.

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Opposition councillors today said the findings raise questions about Cllr MacLaren's "professional judgement and ability", and sources said a vote of no confidence is looming unless the education leader stands down immediately.

Mrs Flex has made a complaint to the Standards Commission, which has the power to censure, suspend or ban councillors from holding public office for up to five years if they breach its code of conduct. Its investigation is ongoing.

In his most damning conclusion, Dr Musgrave said his own assessment of Cllr MacLaren's actions amounted to a breach of three elements of that code – "objectivity, stewardship and openness" – because she dismissed Mrs Flex without consulting other councillors and without investigation of her "assumptions".

Labour group leader Andrew Burns today called for the full report to be made public.

He added: "If the conclusions of the independent report are as now being reported, then serious questions need to be asked about Cllr MacLaren's professional judgement and ability to undertake her current duties.

"If (the Standards Commission] subsequently finds against Cllr MacLaren then frankly her position will become untenable."

Craigentinny and Duddingston councillor Ewan Aitken, who is Mrs Flex's local councillor, added: "Given the distress that my constituent has experienced and the attack on her integrity – which has now been shown to be entirely baseless by this independent report – Cllr MacLaren should at the very least make an unequivocal public apology, but in addition should consider her position."

The cross-party group looking into the school rationalisation plans was set up at the end of last year and is made up of parent, teacher and church representatives as well as politicians.

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All members were told to keep the forum's discussions confidential, and no reports or minutes have ever been made public.

After the Evening News printed a story in April which named the primary schools facing the axe, Cllr MacLaren accused Mrs Flex of leaking the information, claiming she had "incontrovertible proof". But Mrs Flex was not the original source of the story and did not contact the Evening News.

Green councillor Alison Johnstone, a member of the cross-party forum, said today: "It now seems clear a parental representative was thrown off the forum on the basis of unfounded allegations." Another opposition councillor said: "Marilyne has brought the council into disrepute, and she should consider resigning. That would be the honourable thing to do. If she doesn't, discussions will certainly take place about calling a vote of no confidence."

An administration councillor added: "If Marilyne didn't have evidence in her possession, then she has acted hastily."

Among the findings in his 29-page report, Dr Musgrave wrote: "In dismissing Mrs Flex from membership of the forum, she (Cllr MacLaren] exceeded the powers available to her as a convener. With hindsight, it is clear that Cllr MacLaren would probably have avoided the current difficulties if she had tackled the matter in a different manner and taken more time over deciding on action.

"It will be necessary for Cllr MacLaren to accept that there is no definitive evidence to confirm that Mrs Flex was the person releasing information to the Evening News. If she does not, then I fear that the forum is unlikely to operate as effectively in the future."

Cllr MacLaren was asked by the Evening News if she would apologise to Mrs Flex, but replied: "I'm not commenting." She was also asked if she is considering resigning, but again said: "I'm not commenting. I'm not allowed to comment."

A council spokeswoman added that Cllr MacLaren could not say anything because the investigation process is not concluded.

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Chief executive Tom Aitchison said: "I am currently in contact with Cllr MacLaren and the complainant about the independent report. I am exploring with them what action is needed to resolve the issues raised in the complaint."

A spokeswoman for the Standards Commission confirmed that an investigation into Cllr MacLaren is being carried out.

Mrs Flex declined to comment on the findings of the investigation at this stage.


November 19, 2007: A cross-party forum to decide which schools will face the axe was formally set up.

• January 10, 2008: The first meeting of the forum was held in private and Councillor Marilyne MacLaren explained that all public statements would be limited to press releases.

• January 11: The Evening News reported on the first meeting of the forum, revealing accurate information not contained in the press release.

• February 29: The forum decided to concentrate on areas where primary school numbers were falling.

• March 1: The Evening News revealed the areas of Edinburgh earmarked for possible school closures – information which was not contained in the press release.

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• April 22: Four primary schools were identified for possible closure by the forum, but the information was withheld from the press.

• April 23: The Evening News listed the four schools, based on information from sources.

• April 28: Cllr MacLaren wrote to Lynda Flex, stating she had "incontrovertible evidence" that Mrs Flex was leaking information to the News. Cllr MacLaren rescinded Mrs Flex's membership of the forum.

• April 30: Mrs Flex denied she had released details and demanded proof.

• June 2: As all the evidence arose from verbal reports, the council admitted it could not provide any documentary evidence.

• June 10: The Evening News stated that Mrs Flex was not the original source of the story.

• June 11: Mrs Flex was ejected from a meeting of the forum.

• June 26: Council leader Jenny Dawe and Cllr MacLaren declined a request to apologise to Mrs Flex.

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• August: Dr Ralph Musgrave was appointed to investigate matters.


"Cllr MacLaren's belief that she had identified the source at an earlier stage was based on what was proved to be less than definitive evidence."

• "In dismissing Mrs Flex from membership of the forum she exceeded the powers available to her as a convener."

• "Cllr MacLaren failed to meet acceptable standards of objectivity, stewardship and openness."

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