A LABOUR council leader has been suspended from his role after he was found to have leaked information to the press for “political gain”.

Joe Fagan, the leader of South Lanarkshire council, was found to have disclosed confidential information while in opposition before 2021’s Scottish Parliament elections.

He was handed a two-month suspension from his role after an investigation by the Standards Commission for Scotland, The Herald reports.

A longer suspension had been considered but he was given a more lenient punishment because no other evidence of leaking or other breaches of the code of conduct had been found, the commission said.

Fagan was found to have breached the councillor’s code of conduct by releasing a list of leisure and culture facilities identified for closure under the previous SNP administration.

READ MORE: Labour-led South Lanarkshire council delays proposed cuts amid backlash

He included the confidential material in a press release on April 30, 2021, a few days before the Scottish Parliament elections.

Suzanne Vestri, a Standards Commission member and chair of the hearing panel, said failure to respect confidential documents can “damage the reputation and integrity of a council, and can also impede discussions and decision-making.”

The panel agreed it was legitimate for the council to have decided the information should stay confidential until decisions were finalised and communicated properly. 

Having reviewed all the available evidence, the panel was satisfied “that it was clear that the information was confidential at the time Cllr Fagan disclosed it to the press”. 

Although there was evidence that Fagan “disagreed strongly” with the closure plans, the panel also believed the leak was motivated “at least in part, for political gain” given the backdrop of the Holyrood election.

At the time, the SNP Government's funding of local services was an issue.

The scandal has sparked calls for Fagan to quit, with the SNP saying his actions reflected "grubby politics". 

Katy Loudon, the SNP candidate for an expected by-election in Rutherglen, said: "Joe Fagan and his Labour Party have always cared more about their own gain than the people they have been elected to serve, and the Commission's findings make that crystal clear. 

"Mr Fagan should do the right thing now and resign, after letting down people across South Lanarkshire and his council colleagues, who he was happy to throw under the bus as he tried to swindle a few more votes for his party last year because Labour had nothing positive to offer voters. If he is not willing to resign – then Anas Sarwar should show leadership and sack him.

"With a potential by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West on the cards, people across the constituency will have a chance to reject this type of grubby politics and elect a strong MP committed to building a better future for them, their family and their community by voting for the SNP." 

The panel noted, in mitigation, that Fagan had cooperated fully with the investigation and hearing “and further noted his contribution to public life and to his community”.

There was no evidence of other leaking, dishonesty or concealment, or of any previous contraventions of the code of conduct by Fagan, it said.

Nevertheless, the panel found that he “had deliberately disclosed the information and that he had done so, at least in part, for political gain”.

This could have had an impact on council officials and could have caused “undue and unnecessary concern” about possible closures before final decisions were made. 

Fagan, who represents the East Kilbride Central North, responded forcefully to the ruling suggesting the Standards Commissioner was failing to "go after real wrongdoing in local government". 

He said: “I regret what has happened but my conscience is clear. I did what I believed to be right and that’s why I got into local government in the first place. 

“My accusers said I leaked information and yet I openly disclosed it in good faith.

“I believe the Standards framework in Scotland should go after real wrongdoing in local government, it should not tie the hands of those working to expose it.”