Activists add to pressure on Argyll and Bute Council to launch inquiry into bullying allegations

30/03/2015
michael

Community development company concerned over handling of Castle Toward campaign

ALLEGATIONS of improper conduct against a senior Argyll and Bute Council official require a full, independent investigation, according to the chair of a community development group in Dunoon.

Douglas Hendry, executive director of services at the council, was named by former staff and sources who have worked closely with the council as being involved in a culture of bullying and intimidation. (Click here to read more).

Local MSP Mike Russell was the first to call for an investigation following the revelations published on CommonSpace.

Now, Alan Stewart, chair of the South Cowal Community Development Company, has written to council chief executive Sally Loudon, raising concerns that Hendry acted improperly in the case of the Castle Toward community buyout application.

Stewart, in the correspondence seen by CommonSpace, said: “This allegation against a very senior council officer is extremely serious, and as chair of the community group trying to buy the castle, I find the possibility that we as a group were not being treated fairly very disconcerting. This would however perhaps explain the difficulty we had in trying to persuade the council that a project that would create 100 jobs would be worth supporting.”

At a public meeting in February, council officials refused to state whether there were discussions with another bidder for Castle Toward estate.

He continued: “I echo the call from Michael Russell MSP that you should carry out a full and independent investigation into the allegations as a matter of urgency.”

According to sources with decades of experience in Scottish local government, Hendry and council leader Dick Walsh have led Castle Toward policy-making for decades.

Both men are said to be prominent in decisions surrounding Castle Toward in 1996, 2009 and 2015.

In 1996 meetings were held between neighbouring council districts over who would own Castle Toward, which was then transferred to Argyll and Bute council.

Development company Actual Reality sought to bid for Castle Toward in 2003, but this was not acknowledged by the council – according to its director Dr Christopher Mason.

Mason claimed that negotiations between the council and Seasons Holidays group were “kept secret” in The Dunoon Observer. (Click here to read more).

A deal between Seasons Holidays and the council broke down, and Castle Toward was then closed in 2009 after instruction from council officials.

In 2014, council leader Dick Walsh opposed the community bid for the estate. Douglas Hendry was charged with ‘disciplining’ councillors who had campaigned on the Castle Toward issue.

A source who has followed the developments surrounding the Castle Toward case told CommonSpace: “Hendry has been running Castle Toward policy with Walsh since 1996 whatever his place or position. I think they have a buyer lined up. They don’t want anyone else to have it.”

At a public meeting in February, council officials refused to state whether there were discussions with another bidder for Castle Toward estate. Such discussions would be illegal under the Land Reform Act, which gives communities granted right to buy status the first opportunity to bid for assets

Audit Scotland, the watchdog into council malpractice, has been conducting an investigation into Argyll and Bute Council for the last two years, a process which identified “inadequate” leadership.

Senior legal and former council officials told CommonSpace that their specific complaints to Audit Scotland have been ignored.

Audit Scotland and the Scottish Government can call a full public hearing into mismanagement of council.

The council has refused to respond to the requests from Mike Russell, SCCDC and CommonSpace for comment.

Picture courtesy of GPS