Glasgow leader reported to ethics watchdog over George Square fiasco
The RIAS has complained to Scotland’s Public Standards Commissioner over Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson’s handling of the controversial George Square competition
The complaint that Matheson breached the Councillors’ Code of Conduct includes claims the Labour leader was tried to sway the contest so his favourite scheme won and tampered with a legally binding procurement procedure.
In a letter to the commissioner, RIAS secretary and treasurer Neil Baxter said: ‘In his disregard for due process relating to the laws governing procurement, Councillor Matheson has behaved in a manner which might be considered unlawful.’
The document includes testimony from the council’s former chief architect Kerr Robertson who claims he was told six weeks before the judging ‘Gordon Matheson [would] be allowed to choose the winning design.’
Robertson alleges he was also asked to make sure ‘other jury members would fall into line with this’ but refused. He retired from the council a few weeks ago.
Last month a leaked RIAS report accused Matheson of derailing the international contest having, allegedly, already decided he wanted Burns + Nice to redesign the square. The practice, which recently overhauled London’s Leicester Square, was voted the public’s favourite in an online poll but was beaten by John McAslan + Partners in the high-profile contest.
The report reads: ‘[From] his initial comments at the first judges meeting onwards, it appears that, for whatever reason, Councillor Matheson had selected his own winner at the outset and reasoning by a very experienced group of judges did not persuade him otherwise.’
Abandoning the £15 million project immediately after the winner was announced in January, Matheson said he was responding to public opinion, claiming the ‘people of Glasgow have made it clear in no uncertain terms that they do not want a radical redesign of the square.’
The Standards Commissioner can disqualify councillors found to have broken their codes of conduct.
The leader of Glasgow’s SNP, Graeme Hendry has called on Matheson to resign if he is found guilty of breaching the code. He told the AJ: ‘It is important competitions follow due process and are taken forward in good faith. This one was not taken forward in good faith due to the alleged behaviour of councillor Matheson.’
Asked whether the winner and shortlist should be compensated over the fiasco, he said: ‘I do not want to see any additional costs to the Council but I can appreciate why those entering feel betrayed and wish compensated.’
Commenting on the RIAS complaint, a spokesperson for the council said: ‘Even the RIAS make it clear in the complaint that they can’t find a rule they think has been broken and they acknowledge that the competition was well run.
‘They are also clear that they have no evidence of anyone attempting to improperly influence the jury. What is clear is that there was no public appetite for a radical redesign of George Square and that whichever design won we would have gone with the public’s view.’