Glasgow & West Scotland

George Square 'misconduct' report challenged by RIAS

George Square revamp design
Image caption The council opted for a more modest revamp of George Square after rejecting the winning RIAS competition design

A ruling which cleared the leader of Glasgow City Council of wrongdoing over an aborted design competition to revamp George Square is being challenged.

Gordon Matheson was accused of trying to fix the competition and break statutory procurement rules.

He was cleared after the matter was probed by the Standards Commissioner.

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) said that ruling was flawed and has called for the Public Services Ombudsman to intervene.

Six visions for the square went forward to an expert panel chaired by Mr Matheson following a RIAS-run competition.

The competition was won by John McAslan and Partners but Mr Matheson subsequently announced that the council would not be proceeding with the £15m contract.

Instead, a scaled-back facelift of the square is to be carried out in time for the 2014 Commonwealth Games at a cost of about £500,000.

Councillor cleared

A complaint about Mr Matheson's conduct was lodged by Neil Baxter on behalf of the council of the RIAS.

The first allegation said that in his decision-making capacity as a judge of the design competition, Mr Matheson attempted to coerce council officers to endorse his own views and urged them to influence other parties involved.

Image caption The commissioner found Mr Matheson had no case to answer

The second allegation said that he failed to observe the rules of the competition as set out within the statutory procurement process, and acted unfairly and without observing the agreed criteria.

The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life, D Stuart Allan, investigated the allegations and found that Mr Matheson had no case to answer.

He concluded: "Essentially I found that Councillor Matheson did not engage inappropriately in the management of the competition to select the design for the redevelopment of George Square and that he did not act unfairly in applying his own judgement to the selection process."

The commissioner added: "Having considered the information that arose from my investigation, I concluded that Councillor Gordon Matheson had not contravened the councillors' code of conduct."

Those conclusion have now been branded "lamentably poor" by the RIAS.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, RIAS secretary Neil Baxter said: "This report ignores clear concerns about unfair treatment of local authority staff; failure to follow good ethical public standards and well established standing orders and legal principles.

"The commissioner's decision also sends out a strong signal to those who witness wrongdoing and consider acting as whistleblowers.

'Factual errors'

"The message seems to be no matter what you are witness to, no matter how wrong you see it to be, no matter how your moral and ethical judgments are offended, if you say something you stand a very good chance of being ignored and after a cursory investigation it may well be you who is cast as unreliable."

The RIAS said the commissioner had chosen to interview Mr Matheson yet it had not interviewed "four of the five" other competition judges.

It said he had "failed to cross-check the evidence" and "relied upon factual errors in the argument which underpinned his conclusions".

The RIAS also said the commissioner "accepted Councillor Matheson's evidence at face value while disrespecting evidence from the whistleblower or the Royal Incorporation with no rationale as to why".

It has now written to the Public Services Ombudsman for Scotland (SPSO) asking him to intervene in the matter.

The RIAS said it had also written to the local government minister "seeking a review of the legislation under which the Standards Commission operates".

BBC Scotland contacted the standards commissioner's office for a response.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: "This is desperate stuff from Mr Baxter.

"We work very closely with SPSO and will give them any support they ask for."

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