Inquiry clears Monklands

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Chief Political Correspondent

An independent inquiry yesterday cleared Monklands council in Strathclyde of damaging allegations of "jobs-for-the-boys" employment practices.

The inquiry report said there was "substance to the perception that political power was exercised by a small number of Coatbridge councillors".

The inquiry inspector, William Nimmo Smith QC, said that much of the trouble had arisen "from the insensitive exercise of power" by Labour councillors.

But he found no evidence for the allegations that jobs were reserved for Labour members and the families of key Labour officials. The allegations were deeply embarrassing for the Labour leadership as the town was the constituency of the party's late leader, John Smith.

The charges of nepotism had been used by Conservative MPs to deflect criticism of Westminster City Council, but yesterday, Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, announced that the council had complied with the law requiring authorities to make appointments on merit.

The inquiry report said the involvement of councillors in the appointment of staff had given "apparent substance" to the allegations of nepotism. But he said procedures since April last year had ended that problem, and there was no evidence of nepotism in any appointments since 1990. Mr Forsyth said no further action was required by him.

The report came as a relief to Labour. Claims of a "Monklands Mafia" among the ruling Labour group on the district council erupted in an acrimonious by-election campaign last year after the death of Mr Smith.

During the campaign, a former Scottish Office minister, Allan Stewart, claimed some appointments were influenced by religious bias. But Mr Nimmo Smith found no evidence to support any allegation of religious bias in any appointment to employment with the council.

The report was hailed as a vindication of Labour's demand two years ago for an inquiry by George Robertson, the party's spokesman on Scottish affairs. Labour's national executive committee will be considering its own report on the allegations.

"While there are strong criticisms in the report of councillors and council procedures. . . the wilder allegations of ministers and David Shaw [Tory MP for Dover] have been firmly rejected," Mr Robertson said.