Aberdeen councillors quizzed over pro-Union letter

COUNCILLORS accused of breaching good conduct guidelines over a “pro-Union” letter sent to taxpayers in the run-up to the independence referendum are to face a second grilling.

The councillors are to be grilled over the pro-Union letter that was sent out with council tax bills. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Public office watchdog the Standards Commission is to resume questioning seven members of Aberdeen City Council over the alleged breach of good practice - just three weeks before the General Election.

It comes after the Labour-led administration sent out a letter with council tax bills last year that claimed that the city was stronger “as a partner within the United Kingdom”.

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A conduct hearing was held in Aberdeen earlier this year after more than 80 complaints were received about the message signed by former council leader Barney Crockett.

The Standards Commission had to adjourn the meeting in February after the former chief executive Valerie Watts failed to give evidence by video link.

But the watchdog confirmed yesterday that the panel will return to the city on April 15 - despite protests from the Labour party for the hearing not to be resumed during the pre-election period.

Seven councillors who were on the urgent business committee, and who agreed to issue the letter, are facing questions from standards chiefs.

They include five Labour councillors - leader Jenny Laing, her predecessor Mr Crockett, Willie Young, Neil Cooney, and Ross Grant - as well as non-aligned member Fraser Forsyth and the Conservatives’ Ross Thomson.

The letter said: “2014 is a big year for Aberdeen, Scotland and the United Kingdom, which culminates in September with a referendum to determine Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom.

“The council’s position is clear,as we agreed at our meeting in December last year we recognise that Aberdeen is stronger now and will be stronger in the future – economically, politically,and socially – as a partner within the United Kingdom.

The letter also stated that Aberdeen City Council received the lowest grant from the Scottish Government of any council in Scotland and continued to pay more in non-domestic rates to the Scottish Government than it received by way of the General Revenue Grant.

Eighty-four complaints were lodged after the letter was mailed to taxpayers.

The hearing in February heard that the people who had complained perceived that council facilities had been used to further the cause of those supporting the ‘No’ campaign.

The complainers said this was to the detriment of the parties supporting independence.

The Standards Commission’s Guidance for Councillors and Local Authorities in Scotland states that rules of good conduct must be observed in “all situations” where members represent the council on official business.

If found guilty of a breach of the code of conduct, councillors can face suspension or even disqualification.