Monklands councillors urged to back inquiry

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The Independent Online
MONKLANDS councillors meet tonight to decide whether to approve a public inquiry into long- standing allegations of sectarianism, nepotism and political corruption levelled against the local authority.

The meeting comes after the ruling Labour group received conflicting legal advice over its proposal to use council funds to pay for an investigation into the claims, which have severely embarrassed the Labour Party north of the border.

When Jim Brooks, the leader of the council, and Helen Liddell, the newly elected MP for Monklands East, the seat of the late John Smith, the former Labour leader, announced the public inquiry last month, they said that advice from Andrew Hardie, QC, dean of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh, indicated that council funds could be used to pay for it.

There was no risk, they said, that expenditure on an investigation that would 'clear the council's name once and for all' would be declared ultra vires.

But in a report published earlier this week, the council's chief executive, Maurice Hart, urged councillors to abandon the planned inquiry because, he said, they risked being surcharged for the cost. Mr Hart said that it was 'unlikely' that any investigation would 'clear the air' and warned that the Accounts Commission could penalise councillors if it found that the investigation had benefited individuals or one political party. The council will consider his report tonight before making a final decision on the inquiry.

In an effort to persuade councillors to approve the investigation, Jack McConnell, general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, left Labour's annual conference in Blackpool yesterday and travelled to Monklands, 10 miles east of Glasgow, to meet Mr Brooks.

Mr McConnell is understood to have urged Mr Brooks to ensure that an inquiry is conducted and its findings made public before the local elections in Scotland next spring.