Labour split over councillor’s sacking

Council deputy leader Jim Smith and council leader Jim McCabe flanked by Mears' Willie Docherty and Steve Kelly with apprentices.
Council deputy leader Jim Smith and council leader Jim McCabe flanked by Mears' Willie Docherty and Steve Kelly with apprentices.

A council boss facing a crisis over a multi-million pound repair contract has rejected a claim that a colleague’s sacking is linked to the issue.

North Lanarkshire Council is reviewing its deal with contractor Mears, warning that losses which have been incurred cannot continue.

However, Councillor Jim McCabe, the council leader, insisted the sacking of the man who acts as a watchdog in council affairs was entirely a disciplinary matter.

Councillor Tommy Morgan, from Airdrie, was convener of the council’s audit and governance panel, but lost that job when the ruling Labour group voted 16-14 to oust him.

There have been suggestions that he was axed for asking questions about the Mears contract.

Councillor McCabe said these are wide of the mark, adding: “Tommy Morgan did an excellent job as convener. His work was beyond reproach.

“In this particular instance it’s a disciplinary matter and I won’t breach Labour group confidentiality by saying more. It had nothing to do with anything else.”

The Times & Speaker has been told by another source that Councillor Morgan’s alleged breach of discipline followed a split among councillors over controversial plans to merge Our Lady’s High School and Taylor High School which were eventually ditched.

It’s been suggested that he angered senior figures in the ruling group by asking awkward questions about the Mears contract.

However, a Labour source said: “Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Action was taken following his behaviour at a Labour group meeting. Tommy was angry at the decision of his colleagues not to go ahead with the merger of Our Lady’s and Taylor which would have meant a new school at Ravenscraig which parents opposed.

“Tommy felt the Motherwell area was getting special treatment, but his conduct was out of order and he wouldn’t apologise.

“Had he done so I believe he would still be convener of audit and governance.”

Councillor Morgan could not be reached for comment.

Mears carries out repairs to council homes under a £30 million a year contract, but the contractor has been losing money and the council has taken legal advice on the possibility of making changes to the deal.

The original contract was drawn up with another firm, Morrison, which was taken over by Mears two years ago.

Councillor McCabe said: “The service from Mears is the best we’ve ever had in terms of repairs, with 97-98 per cent done within the agreed time.

“And from an employment point of view, things have also been good, with 76 apprentices taken on since Mears took over the contract.

“However, the ‘best value savings’ element of the Morrison deal cannot be delivered. The losses cannot be sustained and we are looking at ways and means to assist so we can continue with the service.”