Monday, 7 January 2019

Glasgow's 'Laughing Stock' Council



Here's a post from the blog site archive in which I said that Glasgow City Council has become a 'laughing stock' over its handling of an investigation into the foreign trips and expenses of senior council officials. 

Now I asked a number of important, if obvious, questions about the nature of these trips which the Council has still to answer months after its investigation got underway.
  • Why were there multiple trips to New York at roughly the same time every year?
  • Why were some of the individual trips so long?
  • Why were senior officials from the same department given permission to be abroad at the same time?
  • Why were trips authorised for unspecified meetings with unspecified investors? 
  • What benefit did these foreign trips bring to Glasgow and how was this 'benefit' assessed?
I have to say the Council's handling of the situation leaves a lot to be desired, as is the apparent lack of interest and outrage, so far at least, from Glasgow's elected Councillors, MSPs and MPs.  

  

Glasgow's 'Laughing Stock' Council (07/09/18)



Here is Glasgow City Council's laughable response to my FOI request which asked for further information about an investigation into the expenses claims and foreign trips of senior council officials.

In essence the Council is refusing to release any further information because the investigation in still 'ongoing' -  several months after it first began.

Now we are talking about Scotland's largest and best resourced council, by far, with an annual revenue budget of £1.5 billion, yet Glasgow apparently needs more time to get to the bottom of claims which were splashed all over The Sunday Herald back in April 2018.

So I stand by what I said on the blog site over two months ago - the Council's behaviour smacks of sweeping the whole affair under the carpet along with the issue of 'management oversight' which was highlighted in the original article by The Sunday Herald:

"Council staff are overseen by Chief Executive Annemarie O’Donnell and a small team of directors paid more than £100,000 each. Overseas trips must be authorised by O’Donnell but the council said “approval is not always made in writing” so the council does not always hold written records."


I have to say this is fast becoming Glasgow's favourite excuse when faced with challenging questions, whether in relation to foreign trips or 'golden goodbye' payments to other senior officials, but if you ask me the absence of important records at crucial times is turning the City Council into a local government laughing stock.

Any reasonable person looking at the published information on Glasgow's foreign trips would ask a number of obvious questions:
  • Why were there multiple trips to New York at roughly the same time every year?
  • Why were some of the individual trips so long?
  • Why were senior officials from the same department given permission to be abroad at the same time?
  • Why were trips authorised for unspecified meetings with unspecified investors? 
  • What benefit did these foreign trips bring to Glasgow and how was this 'benefit' assessed?
Now the Council's refusal to answer a straight question about the use of public money is outrageous and anti-democratic, but disturbing as well is the lack of interest shown, so far at least, from Glasgow's 100 local Councillors, MSPs and MPs. 

Let's hope this changes in the weeks ahead because this issue is not going away - and nor am I, not least because I am still battling with Glasgow over a series of FOI requests which senior officials are refusing to answer because to do so would 'allegedly' cost the Council more than £600.

All I can say is that the 'guardians of the public pound' must have been asleep on duty when all these fanciful foreign trips were taking place.

       


Dear Mr Irvine

REQUEST FOR REVIEW UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION (SCOTLAND) ACT 2002 (“THE ACT”)

Thank you for your email of 9 July 2018 requesting a review of the response by Glasgow City Council (“the Council”) to your request for information under the Act.

YOUR REQUEST


On 12 June 2018 you emailed the Council and requested that the following information be provided to you:

“1) Please provide me the details of which senior officials have been required to pay moneyback to the Council, how much was paid back and when it was paid back?

2) Please provide me with email contact details for the data controllers in Glasgow City Council's ALEOs?”

THE DECISION

The Council emailed you on 30 June 2018 and provided you with a response to your request for information. For ease of reference, the Council’s decision is set out at the Appendix to this letter.

YOUR REQUEST FOR REVIEW

On 9 July 2018 you emailed the Council requesting a formal review of the decision. Your review request was as follows:

“1) The raw data regarding senior officials' expenses claims is already in the public domain and was reported extensively by The Sunday Herald newspaper on 22 April 2018

2) Whilst I have no wish to undermine an internal investigation that may, or may not, still be underway, I believe it is perfectly fair to expect the Council to have concluded its investigations within the next 20 working days.

3) Clearly there is considerable public interest in the outcome of an investigation which must decide whether any of the Council's senior officials' expenses claims are invalid - and whether any of the public monies involved must be repaid.

4) The City Council has 20 working days to respond to my FOI Review Request which will take us into August 2018.

5) In my view, it is entirely reasonable to expect the Council's internal processes to be completed by that time, especially as the investigation has been underway for several months, i.e. weeks before The Sunday Herald article was published on 22 April, following the newspaper's original FOI Request which brought this matter to public attention.”

THE REVIEW DECISION

I have carried out a full and impartial review of the initial response provided to you. Please be advised that as your request for review relates to information about senior officials’ expensesonly, the scope of this review is limited to that part of your request.

I note the comments made in your review request that ‘it is entirely reasonable to expect the Council’s internal processes to be completed by that time, especially as the investigation hasbeen underway for several months’. Following my investigation, I can confirm that at the timeof writing, the Council’s internal investigation into this matter is ongoing.

I can further confirm that I uphold the Council’s initial decision to withhold the requested information. I agree that the information requested is exempt from a request under section 1 of the Act because of the exemption contained in section 30(c) of the Act. In my opinion, disclosure of the information would, or would be likely to, substantially prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs. I am of the view that release of information relevant to an ongoing investigation could substantially prejudice the investigation. This is because release of the information at this time, would have a significantly disruptive effect on the investigation. Further, there is a legitimate expectation that matters relevant to an ongoing internal investigation would be kept confidential.

In my opinion, there is a real risk that the effectiveness of the investigation would be critically undermined by disclosure of the information that you have requested.

While I believe the exemption contained in section 30(c) of the Act applies in this case, the Council would still be obliged to release the information in response to your request unless the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information. I acknowledge the significant public interest in openness and transparency and therefore recognise that any request under section 1 of the Act is potentially in the public interest. However, I also recognise the public interest in protecting the effective conduct of public affairs. In this case, I am of the view that the public interest in protecting the effective conduct of public affairs outweighs the public interest in disclosure of the information.

In reaching my decision, I have taken into account the Scottish Information Commissioner’s guidance ‘Section 30: Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs’. For information, you canaccess the guidance here:

Yours sincerely

ANNEMARIE O’DONNELL


CHIEF EXECUTIVE

  

Glasgow, Senior Officials and Foreign Trips 5 (03/07/18)



Here are the final expenses claims for overseas trips submitted by Glasgow City Council's Richard Brown and his deputy Tommy Turley.

I suspect the while business came to a shuddering halt after The Sunday Herald submitted its FOI request earlier this year which exposed what had been going on and the newspaper deserves to be congratulated for a fine piece investigative journalism. 

I submitted a further FOI request to Glasgow asking the Council to confirm whether any of these expenses claims have since been found to be 'invalid' and if any monies have been since repaid, but the Council refused to answer on the grounds that an internal investigation is still underway.

Now I don't understand this answer, I have to admit, because while the Council does have a reputation for moving at the speed of a glacier, The Sunday Herald published its story way back in April and the Council must have been put on alert even earlier, as it always take 28 days to answer FOI requests.

So I have decided to appeal and ask for a review of Glasgow's initial decision as it smacks to me of sweeping things under the carpet. 


  


Year 2017/2018

Richard Brown 

Location: Berlin - 31 August 2017 (08/31/17 to 09/02/17)
Purpose of visit: To promote innovation quarters in Glasgow and attend conference 
Air travel cost: £207.19
Hotel venue: Not given
Hotel cost:Nil
Subsistence: Euros 18.85
Fares/taxis: Euros 11.18 and £8.75
Comments: Nil

Tommy Turley

Location: Berlin - 31 August 2017 08/31/17 to 09/02/17)
Purpose of visit:  To promote innovation quarters in Glasgow and attend conference 
Air travel cost: £207.19
Hotel venue: Not given
Hotel cost:Nil
Subsistence: Euros 18.85
Fares/taxis: Euros 11.18 and £8.75
Comments: Nil

Glasgow, Senior Officials and Foreign Trips 4 (02/07/18)

Here are even more questions and comments on the 'foreign trips' expenses claims of senior officials in Glasgow City Council.
  • Richard Brown heads over to Munich for a 4 day property conference - having visited the same city (and same event?) in 2015 and 2014. The cost of travel is hugely expensive at £715.04 
  • Richard Brown travels to the north island of New Zealand for a 10 day conference in Auckland. The conference 'blurb' described the event as follows: "Across three days, attendees will participate in frank, robust presentations, discussions and workshops with international peers, facilitated by Greg Clark". Note three days - not 10. http://advancewateredge.com/programme
  • Richard is off New York again for a five day unspecified meeting with unspecified investors - strangely no travel or accommodation costs are incurred, so who picked up the tab and why?  
  • Tommy Turley travels to Brussels for a 'strategy meeting' with the urban lighting body, LUCI.
  • Tommy Turley heads to Munich for a conference and awards ceremony - his boss Richard is in town as well, but is this down to coincidence or careful planning?
  • Tommy Turley travels to the capital of Korea for the Annual General Meeting of LUCI - someone should alert the Guinness Book of Records because at 11 days this must surely be one of the longest AGMs ever! I wonder who approved this visit - Richard Brown or the Council's chief executive, Annemarie O'Donnell?
  • Tommy Turley accompanies his boss Richard to the unspecified 5 day meeting in New York with unspecified 'investors'. No travel or accommodation costs are incurred, but the two officials have identical subsistence and taxi costs.
  • Tommy Turley visits Berlin for two days - no details given of his 'meeting' or its purpose, and oddly no travel or accommodation costs are incurred. So who picked up the tab and why?
  • Tommy Turley travels to the MPIM property show in Cannes which means Glasgow has been represented at this event for 3 straight years in a row.
I wonder how Glasgow City Council evaluated the cost versus the benefit of sending senior officials on these overseas trips, but I'm sure the public would love to know the answer.

  


Year 2016/2017

Richard Brown 

Location: Munich - 03 October 2016 (10/03/16 to 10/06/16)
Purpose of visit: Expo Real Property Conference and Exhibition
Air travel cost: £715.04
Hotel venue: Ibis Muenchen Sued Hotel
Hotel cost:£557.77
Subsistence:Nil
Fares/taxis: Nil
Comments: Nil

Location: Auckland - 11 November 2016 (11/11/16 to 11/20/16)
Purpose of visit: Wateredge Symposium
Air travel cost: £3,751.29
Hotel venue: Skycity Hotel
Hotel cost: $825.00 (NZ)
Subsistence: $252.80 (NZ)
Fares/taxis:Nil
Comments: Nil

Location: New York - 21 January 2017 (01/21/17 to 01/25/17)
Purpose of visit: Meeting with investors
Air travel cost: Nil
Hotel venue: Not given
Hotel cost:Nil
Subsistence:$16 (US)
Fares/taxis:$44.55 (US)
Comments:Nil

Tommy Turley

Location: Brussels - 30 June 2016 (06/30/16 to 07/01/16)
Purpose of visit: LUCI Strategy Meeting
Air travel cost: £320.00
Hotel venue: Chelton Hotel 
Hotel cost: £70.21
Subsistence: Euros 88.80 + £8.00
Fares/taxis: £77.00
Comments: Nil

Location: Munich - 03 October 2016 (10/03/16 to 10/06/16)
Purpose of visit: Conference and awards ceremony
Air travel cost: £715.04
Hotel venue: Leonardo Hotel and Residenz
Hotel cost: £488.54
Subsistence: Euros 58 + £5.85
Fares/taxis: Euros 32.00
Comments:Nil

Location: Seoul - 28 October 2016 (10/28/16 to 11/07/16) 
Purpose of visit: LUCI AGM
Air travel cost:£1,125.52
Hotel venue: KY Heritage Hotel
Hotel cost: £995.72
Subsistence: Nil
Fares/taxis: Nil
Comments: Nil

Location: New York - 21 January 2017 (01/21/17 to 01/25/17) 
Purpose of visit: Meeting with investors
Air travel cost: Nil 
Hotel venue: Not given
Hotel cost: Nil
Subsistence: $16.00 (US)
Fares/taxis: $44.55 (US)
Comments: Nil

Location: Berlin - 21 February 2017 (02/21/17 to 02/22/17) 
Purpose of visit: Meeting
Air travel cost: Nil
Hotel venue: Not given
Hotel cost: Nil
Subsistence: Euros 13.00
Fares/taxis: £40.00
Comments: Nil

Location: Cannes - 03 March 2017 (03/13/17 to 03/16/17) 
Purpose of visit: MPIM Conference
Air travel cost: £219.06
Hotel venue: Hotel Splendid
Hotel cost: £385.45
Subsistence: Nil
Fares/taxis: Nil
Comments: Nil

  


Glasgow, Senior Officials and Foreign Trips 3 (29/06/18)



Here are some more questions and comments on the 'foreign trips' expenses claims of senior officials in Glasgow City Council.

  • I suppose there might some value in a senior official attending a property conference in Munich, but three days away sounds a bit excessive to me, as does the air fare cost of almost £500.
  • A two day unspecified meeting with EU officials in Brussels which has no travel or accommodation costs - how can this be?
  • Another five day trip to New York for Richard Brown and his deputy - I have tried to find the connection between 'A Great Night In with Glasgow' and the Council's regeneration strategy without any luck so far. But 5 days and two people?
  • Cannes 2016 - another 3 day property conference which seems to be an annual event because Richard Brown also attended in 2015.
  • A 7 day visit to Orlando for an unspecified meeting with unspecified investors. What a strange place for a meeting - who was paying for this trip and how could it possibly take a full week?
  • Furthermore who approved this visit - Richard Brown or the City Council's chief executive, Annemarie O'Donnell?
  • The cost of Tommy Turley travelling to Brussels is recorded as £780.64 - was this by helicopter, by any chance, and what is the connection with Glasgow's regeneration strategy/services.
  • Tommy Turley on the move again to Copenhagen and Paris - the purpose of these visits is unclear and the cost involved appear to have been picked up by a third party. How odd.
  • Tommy Turley on a 7 day visit to Helsinki for an urban lighting conference. Glasgow is the only LUCI member city in the UK as far as I can see. I imagine it must have been a very illuminating event to have spent a whole week there. 

  • Tommy Turley on a four day visit to Milan for the European Music Awards - maybe it's just me but I fail to see the link with Glasgow's regeneration strategy/services.
  • Another LUCI lighting event in Lyon with an unspecified third party picking up the travel and hotel costs.
  • Tommy Turley meets up with his boss Richard Brown for five nights in the Big Apple - maybe the event should be renamed 'A Great Five Nights in with Glasgow!'
  • Tommy Turley joins his boss Richard Brown in Cannes for a 3 day MIPM property conference - Richard Brown attended the same event  in 2015.
Now if anyone knows what 'A Great Night In with Glasgow' is all about, or even 'A Great Five Nights In with Glasgow', please do drop me a note - in complete confidence, of course.

  


Year 2015/2016

Richard Brown
Location: Munich - 05 October 2015 (10/05/15 to 10/07/15)
Purpose of visit: Expo Real Property Conference and Exhibition
Air travel cost: £496.95
Hotel venue: Golden Leaf Hotel
Hotel cost:£406.95
Subsistence:Nil
Fares/taxis: Nil
Comments: Nil

Location: Brussels - !6 November 2015 (16/11/15 to 17/11/15)
Purpose of visit: Meeting with European Commission officials
Air travel cost: Nil
Hotel venue: Nil
Hotel cost: Nil
Subsistence: Euros 27
Fares/taxis:Nil
Comments: Nil

Location: New York - 05 March 2015 (03/05/15 to 03/09/15)
Purpose of visit: A Great Night In With Glasgow
Air travel cost: £940.82
Hotel venue: Park central Hotel
Hotel cost:£874.84
Subsistence:$68.45
Fares/taxis:$23.20
Comments:Nil

Location: Cannes - 15 March 2016 (03/15/16 to 03/17/16)
Purpose of visit: MIPIM (Real Estate Conference)
Air travel cost: £497.75
Hotel venue: Hotel La Pre Catelan
Hotel cost:£421.18
Subsistence:Euros 28.40 + £8.00
Fares/taxis: Euros 122.70
Comments: Nil

Tommy Turley

Location: Orlando - 23 April 2015 (04/23/15 to 04/29/15)
Purpose of visit: Meeting with investors
Air travel cost: Nil
Hotel venue: Not given
Hotel cost: Nil
Subsistence:$114.80 (US) + £8.00
Fares/taxis: $63.55
Comments: Nil

Location: Brussels - 08 July 2015 (07/08/15 to 07/09/15)
Purpose of visit: Conference and awards ceremony
Air travel cost: £780.64
Hotel venue: The Dominican
Hotel cost: £125.82
Subsistence: Euros 58 + £5.85
Fares/taxis: Euros 32.00
Comments:Nil

Location: Copenhagen/Paris - 27 August 2015 (08/27/15 to 08/28/15) 
Purpose of visit: SEC Europe Venue Visits
Air travel cost: Nil
Hotel venue: Nil
Hotel cost: Nil
Subsistence: Euros 7.70
Fares/taxis: Euros 10 + £7.00
Comments: Nil

Location: Helsinki - 23 September 2015 (09/23/15 to 09/29/15) 
Purpose of visit: LUCI (Lighting Urban Community International) AGM
Air travel cost: £386.38
Hotel venue: Not given
Hotel cost: Not given
Subsistence: Euros 101.30 + £4.45
Fares/taxis:Euros 81.00 + £3.50
Comments: Nil

Location: Milan - 23 October 2015 (10/23/15 to 10/26/15) 
Purpose of visit: European Music Awards
Air travel cost: £386.55
Hotel venue: The Dominican
Hotel cost: £382.26
Subsistence: 75.45 Euros
Fares/taxis:80.95 Euros
Comments: Nil

Location: Lyon - 11 February 2016 (02/11/16 to 02/12/16) 
Purpose of visit: LUCI (Lighting Urban Community International) - rescheduled conference
Air travel cost: Nil
Hotel venue: Not given
Hotel cost: Not given
Subsistence: Euros 12.90
Fares/taxis: Nil
Comments: Nil

Location: New York - 05 March 2016 (03/05/16 to 03/09/16) 
Purpose of visit: A Great Night In With Glasgow
Air travel cost: £940.62
Hotel venue: Park Central
Hotel cost: £874.84
Subsistence: $68.44 (US)
Fares/taxis:$23.20
Comments: Nil

Location: Cannes - 15 March 2016 (03/15/16 to 03/17/16)
Purpose of visit: MPIM (Real Estate Conference)
Air travel cost: £497.78
Hotel venue: Hotel La Pre Catelan
Hotel cost: Not given
Subsistence: Euros 26.40 + £8.00
Fares/taxis:Euros 122.70
Comments: Nil

  


Glasgow, Senior Officials and Foreign Trips 2 (26/06/18)



I was not involved in the 'investigation' Glasgow City Council carried out into the expenses claims of senior officials who were involved in foreign trips, nor do I know what conclusions were reached.

But here are some questions and comments that occur to me from the information provided in response to my FOI Request to Glasgow City Council.
  • Why were the Council director and his deputy both allowed on a 9 day trip Toronto and New York at the same time?
  • Because the whole point of having a deputy is surely defeated, if both senior officials are away on the same trip at the same time - and these two individuals cost the Council a lot of money; somewhere in the region of £5,000 a week (£3,000 for Richard Brown and £2,000 for Tommy Turley) excluding expenses.  
  • Why were two senior officials attending a meeting of the North West Europe Interreg Programme Preparation Group (NWEIPPG) in Canada - when the work of this body is focused on North West Europe, as its name suggests?
  • Why, if the NWEIPPG meeting was in Toronto, did Tommy Turley fly onto Ottowa for another NWEIPPG meeting before meeting up with Richard Brown again in New York on 20 April 2014?
  • Why did Richard Brown not fly to Ottowa with his deputy and why is there no name given for Tommy Turley's Ottowa hotel? 
  • In what way did a 6 day visit to the Queen's Baton Relay in New York contribute to better (development and regeneration services) in Glasgow?
  • Given that the Queen's Baton relay was about the 2014 Commonwealth Games and that neither New York nor the USA are or were in the Commonwealth, what was the connection between New York, Glasgow and the 2014 Commonwealth Games?
So that's my starter for 10 and to follow there will be a similar examination of the foreign trips made by Richard and Tommy in 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18.

Readers will perhaps not be surprised to learn that these foreign trips came to a shuddering halt in 2018 which I suspect is connected to the original FOI enquiry by The Sunday Herald.

  


Glasgow, Senior Officials and Foreign Trips 1 (22/06/18)



I have finished reading Glasgow City Council's response to my FOI request regarding the expenses claims submitted by senior council officials in connection with foreign trips to a variety of locations around the world. 

Now there's lots of interesting detail to share, but there's also quite lot to 'take in'.

So I plan to publish a series of posts in the days ahead which will build up, bit by bit, a clear picture of what has been going on over the past four years.

The information focuses on Richard Brown, executive director of development and regeneration services, and his deputy Tommy Turley, both of whom featured in an article which appeared in The Sunday Herald back on 21 April 2018 (see posts below). 

More to follow soon - so watch this space.

Year 2014/2015

Richard Brown 

Location: Toronto - 27 April 2014 (04/27/14 to 30/04/14)
Purpose of visit: North West Europe Interreg Programme Preparation Group
Air travel cost: £752.03
Hotel venue: Hilton Toronto
Hotel cost:£278.67
Subsistence:$57.66 (Can)
Fares/taxis:$60.00
Comments: Nil

Location: New York - 30 April 2014 (30/04/16 to 05/04/14)
Purpose of visit: Queen's Baton relay
Air travel cost: £102.30
Hotel venue: Park Central
Hotel cost:$1,040.60
Subsistence:$35.71(US)
Fares/taxis:$52.91 (US)
Comments: Nil

Location: Munich - 06 October 2014 (10/06/14) to 10/08/14)
Purpose of visit: Conference
Air travel cost: £348.31
Hotel venue: Hotel Torbraeu
Hotel cost:£476.00
Subsistence:Nil
Fares/taxis:Nil
Comments:Nil

Location: Cannes - 10 March 2015 (03/10/15 to 03/12/15)
Purpose of visit: MIPIM
Air travel cost: £419.11
Hotel venue: Best Western Alba
Hotel cost:£140.16
Subsistence:Nil
Fares/taxis:Nil
Comments: Nil

Tommy Turley

Location: Toronto - 27 April 2016 (04/27/14 to 30/04/14)
Purpose of visit: North West Europe Interreg Programme Preparation Group
Air travel cost: £777.03
Hotel venue: Hilton Toronto
Hotel cost:£278.67
Subsistence:$57.68 (Can)
Fares/taxis: Nil
Comments: Nil

Location: Ottawa - 28 April 2014 (04/28/14)
Purpose of visit: North West Europe Interreg Programme Preparation Group
Air travel cost: £165.47
Hotel venue: Not given
Hotel cost:£129.17
Subsistence:Nil
Fares/taxis:Nil
Comments:Nil

Location: New York - 30 April 2014 (04/30/14 to 05/04/14) 
Purpose of visit: Queen's Baton relay
Air travel cost: £102.30
Hotel venue: Park Central
Hotel cost: £1,040..60
Subsistence: $35.71 ((US)
Fares/taxis: $52.91 and $60 (US)
Comments: Nil

Location: Brussels - 02 March 2015 (03/02/15 to 03/05/15) 
Purpose of visit: Romas NeT Final Conference and closing event
Air travel cost: £386.55 
Hotel venue: The Dominican
Hotel cost: £382.26
Subsistence: 75.45 Euros
Fares/taxis:80.95 Euros
Comments: Nil

So that's the basic information supplied by Glasgow City Council for the financial year 2014 to 2015.

My next blog post will raise some rather obvious questions about the nature of these foreign trips and the costs or benefits to the taxpayer.

And once 2014/15 has been given a really thorough examination the years 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18 to follow.