The County You Live, Work And Play
SLC Deputy Leader Dragged Into Row
Labour's deputy leader on South Lanarkshire council is facing questions about his links to a businessman who was given taxi contracts worth over £200,000 by the local authority.
An email reveals that Stephen McGhee, the contractor who was handed the transport work, helped organise a fundraiser for Councillor Jackie Burns on local authority premises.
McGhee also made a donation to the Burns campaign by taking a table at the dinner and attended meetings on setting up a website for Burns.
South Lanarkshire Council is under Labour majority control and has Eddie McAvoy as leader and Burns as deputy.
Council Passenger Services Co-ordinator Peter Henry was suspended recently following an anonymous complaint about council contracts to McGhee, his nephew.
According to the council’s website, McGhee benefited from eight contracts from 2013 that involved taking children with assisted support needs to school.
The individual value of the deals were £32,300, £51,244, £19,000, £24,320, £18,300, £31,720, £18,056 and £15,288.
Henry was also election agent to Burns, who had been selected earlier this year as the party’s candidate to contest Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.
Burns stood down from the candidacy after Henry’s suspension, citing personal reasons for the decision.
Party sources said Burns’ decision to quit was unconnected to the Henry probe.
However, Burns’ links to McGhee are now under the spotlight after this newspaper established that the contractor was part of the team trying to get the council deputy leader elected to the Scottish Parliament.
In February, local Labour members received an email about an upcoming fundraising dinner for Burns’ Holyrood bid: “Lastly, Peter Henry and Stephen McGhee have organised a fundraising dinner dance in the Banqueting Hall at Council Offices, Almada St., Hamilton on Friday, 27th Feb. at 7pm, in aid of next year’s Scottish Parliament election fund.
“This is primarily aimed at a target audience of supporters beyond the Party membership, but any members who would like to come would be very welcome.
“Tickets are £50 per person - £500 for a table of 10 – and include a bottle of spirits, two bottles of wine and 10 bottles of beer on each table…”
The Banqueting Hall can be hired by external organisations and the local authority confirmed that one Labour function had been held there this year.
McGhee also attended at least one meeting with a public relations firm hired to create an online campaign presence for Burns.
Meanwhile, the council is refusing to say whether the payments to McGhee go back any further than 2013.
It believes disclosure would “prejudice substantially” the “effective conduct of public affairs” and “our law enforcement functions”.
There is no suggestion Burns was involved in the council’s decision to give McGhee any contracts.
An SNP spokesperson said: "These latest revelations leave Labour in Lanarkshire yet more questions to answer - this issue must be fully investigated to remove any suspicion of impropriety. As we approach next year's Scottish Parliament elections, it is little wonder that more and more people in Lanarkshire, and across Scotland, are placing their trust in the SNP."
Burns said: “I was lucky enough to have a large and broad support base for my candidacy, and I was particularly grateful for the work of my Campaign Organising Committee of 10 Labour Party members. The committee’s support included arranging a fundraising dinner and attending meetings related to the campaign, including around creating a social media presence.
“Stephen McGhee was a member of the committee, and he also took a table at the dinner. As far as I am aware that is the only donation of this kind he made. All of this was entirely appropriate and above board.”