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RIAS ups the ante in George Square design contest spat

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The RIAS has called in the Ombudsman as the row over Glasgow City Council’s handling of the city’s George Square design competition intensifies

The latest move follows the publication of a Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life (CESPL) report last month, which exonerated Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson of any wrongdoing in the way he ran the disastrous competition (see below).

In the latest round of the high-profile dispute, the RIAS has upped the ante by turning to the Ombudsman and has released a statement setting out its grievances.

RIAS secretary Neil Baxter told the AJ: ‘Our goal should be the appropriate sanctions against the leader of the Glasgow City Council for his abuse of the architectural profession, for his ignoring of European procurement law and his endeavours to coerce council staff to join him in that abuse.’

In the statement the RIAS Secretary described the CESPL report as having: ‘…significant misapprehensions, misrepresentations, failures and errors of fact which fundamentally undermine his [the Standards Commissioner] report and the validity of its conclusions.’

Baxter went on to claim that the Commissioner’s report had ‘broader implications for Scottish society’. He said: ‘…this report ignores clear concerns about unfair treatment of local authority staff; failure to follow good ethical public standards and well established standing orders and legal principles.’

‘The Commissioner’s decision also sends out a strong signal to those who witness wrongdoing and consider acting as whistleblowers.

‘The message seems to be ‘no matter what you are witness to, no matter how wrong you see it to be, no matter how your moral and ethical judgments are offended, if you say something you stand a very good chance of being ignored and after a cursory investigation it may well be you who is cast as unreliable.’

At the time of writing CESPL had not responded to AJ enquiries.

Key CESPL ‘failings’as identified by RIAS:

  • failure to interview key witnesses, including four of the five competition judges (only Councillor Matheson was interviewed)
  • failure to cross-check the evidence
  • it relied upon factual errors in the argument which underpinned his conclusions
  • It accepted Councillor Matheson’s evidence at face value while disrespecting evidence from the whistleblower or the Royal Incorporation with no rationale as to why

Previous story (AJ 27.09.13)

RIAS considers legal action after Matheson cleared

Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson has been cleared by Scotland’s Public Standards Commission over his handling of the city’s George Square fiasco

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) brought the complaint against Matheson after it was alleged the controversial leader had failed to obey the rules of the design competition and also tried to coerce staff to influence the judges (AJ 22.04.13).

The Standards Commission’s ruling is a blow for RIAS secretary and treasurer Neil Baxter, who has been at the vanguard of the RIAS’s attack on Matheson.

‘We are not willing to accept the conclusions of the Standards Commission,’ said Baxter. ‘We will be referring the matter for legal advice.

‘Every word in our original complaint is absolutely true. Why else would they [council staff] whistle-blow? They have done themselves severe damage and been given scant regard by the commission.’

One of those ‘whistleblowers’ is the council’s former chief architect, Kerr Robertson, who told the commission that, six weeks before the judging, he was informed that Matheson would be ‘allowed to choose the winning design’.

Baxter also expressed dismay that none of the four competition judges: David Mackay, Professor Andy McMillan, David Harding and Geoff Ellis, were contacted for witness statements. He said: ‘These are respected people prepared to give witness accounts and the Standards Commission did not bother to contact them.

‘Instead, [the commission] has produced a partial report that only the council has been privy to.’

Another source told the AJ: ‘Heritage insiders in Glasgow have expressed considerable surprise at the decision.’

The Standards Commission told AJ: ‘…a fair and impartial investigation was undertaken all witnesses - relevant to that part of the complaint which fell within the Councillors’ Code of Conduct - were interviewed.’

In January Matheson binned the entire scheme after John McAslan + Partners was selected for the £15 million revamp ahead of Matheson’s preferred choice, London-based Burns +Nice. At the time Matheson justified his decision by claiming: ‘The people of Glasgow have made it clear in no uncertain terms that they do not want a radical redesign of the square’ (AJ 21.01.13).

A revised council in-house design team refit of the square costing just £500,000 is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

You can find a summary of the commissioner’s decision here : http://www.publicstandardscommissioner.org.uk/decisions/decision/532/lag1389

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