ARGYLL and Bute Council today stands accused of being “false” in its reply to a Freedom of Information request connected to the Standards Commission inquiry into independent councillor Mike Breslin.

Four senior officials made a lengthy complaint to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life about Breslin, who was cleared of 14 of the 15 allegations against him, but the council has since formally denied that there had been any cost to the council in the officers’ “progressing this complaint”.

A National investigation today shows that the council did not reply fully to a Freedom of Information request by community activist Alan Stewart.

He asked the council under FoI rules to “supply the cost of the officers’ time, based on their salary at the time, for the period used to compile this lengthy complaint”. He also asked for “details of the total time spent by these officers meeting and having telephone conversations with the standards commissioner and associated staff”.

Crucially, Stewart also asked for the “cost of all external advice taken in compiling the complaint, meeting with the various parties, and representation at hearings”.

The council replied that under section 17 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, the requests were refused as it is information ‘not held’ by the council.

However, the reply to Stewart added that “there was no cost to the council in officers progressing this complaint to the Standards Commission.”

On the contrary, there were costs in staff time and use of council resources. The commissioner’s office told The National that “the complaint submitted was sent in via post using council headed paper” and added that “the interviews for this case were held during normal working hours on council premises as per our standard practice. One interview was held within our own office in Edinburgh”.

Under local authority accountancy rules, senior staff time is quantifiable, and given that the time of the four complainants and at least two other officials was spent on the complaint and that it was posted to Edinburgh, there must have been a cost to the council.

Alan Stewart said last night: “The response that The National received from the Ethical Standards Commissioner clearly shows that council property and equipment were used in compiling the complaint, therefore the response to my FOI that there was no information held within the council is clearly false.

“Additionally, the fact that interviews were conducted during working hours and on council property, equally shows that the response to another part of my FOI request is also false.

“This is an appalling way for a council to behave. I have called, along with many others, for independent investigation into the running of Argyll and Bute Council. It is now even more evident that an investigation is essential. This is yet another indication that our council is not functioning in the best interests of its community. It is time now for action to be taken to find out why the council behaves the way it does.”

The complaint by former chief executive Sally Loudon, now chief executive of Cosla, current chief executive Cleland Sneddon, senior directors Pippa Milne and Doug Hendry, ran to nearly 100 pages.

Councillor Breslin said: “The four complainants were interviewed by the investigating officer as were two others.

“I understand there were also telephone calls.

“At least one member of staff was present for the first day of the hearing in Edinburgh and one of our legal staff was present at the second day, having stayed overnight.

“For the council to say ‘there was no cost’ cannot possibly be correct.”

An Argyll and Bute spokesperson said: “Along with the response to the FOI, and as is standard practice, the council provided information on steps that can be taken if the person requesting the information is not entirely satisfied.”