Audit Scotland is to investigate a recent land deal at Meadowbank that saw two Council workers negotiate a cut-price sale and keep no written record.
The City of Edinburgh Council bought just over two hectares of land in the Meadowbank area in 2005 for a nominal sum of £100,000, around 1% of its market value. The Council originally argued commercial confidentially as a reason for not providing further information before being forced by the Scottish Information Commissioner to finally came clean about what had happened.
The Scottish Information Commissioner established that negotiations were conducted orally by the Council’s former Property Development Manager and a surveyor, both of whom had since left Council employment. He also found the Council denied holding any record of exchange of correspondence between the parties prior to missives.
In July the Commissioner issued a report that criticised the Council’s procedures, including its repeated failure “to conduct adequate searches” during the Commisioner’s investigation. He also expressed his “surprise” at the lack of information the Council says it holds about such a “significant land purchase”.
Now Audit Scotland is poised to investigate. Audit Scotland’s Gillian Battison told campaigners: “The auditor is concerned about the lack of documentation maintained in this case and will be pursuing this point with the council as part of her ongoing work. In particular, she wishes to confirm that the council is properly operating its scheme of delegation and that there are proper processes in place to ensure that all relevant information is held to support transactions.”
The controversial land deal was discovered by campaigners trying to retain the popular Meadowbank sports facility. Save Meadowbank spokesman Kevin Connor welcomed Audit Scotland’s involvement. He said: “We are pleased that Audit Scotland agrees this warrants investigation.
“This was a very significant land deal on a sizeable part of the Meadowbank site. Normal procedures appear to have been circumvented. Answers are required to establish why a supposedly commercial company would sell an asset at 1% of its market value and the council is refusing to provide any answers. We believe the council’s financial controls have been breached and the external and internal audit functions – who have a responsibility to protect the public pound – have failed in their responsibilities to identify this event which campaigners uncovered with minimum effort”