Watchdog rules out action over tip deal

Easter Langlee Landfill Site near Galashiels.
Easter Langlee Landfill Site near Galashiels.

Scotland’s public spending watchdog has ruled out taking any action over Scottish Borders Council’s costly and abortive attempt to have a £23m advanced thermal treatment waste plant built at Easter Langlee in Galashiels.

Audit Scotland was asked to intervene by retired Borders journalist Bill Chisholm after he completed a 43-page report on the debacle last month.

Compiled after an investigation spanning two-and-a-half years, his dossier focused on the 2012 contract between the council and Dorset-based New Earth Solutions, now in liquidation, for the provision of the station.

That deal was finally scrapped in February 2015 at a cost to the public purse of £2.4m, with the council citing “technological and financial issues” for its abandonment.

Mr Chisholm claimed evidence he has gathered indicates council officers were aware of shortcomings both with the untested technology involved and issues over how it would be paid for, via an offshore investment fund, but failed to pass on their concerns to elected members.

However, having considered his report, Audit Scotland has now confirmed it will take no action.

In its response to Mr Chisholm, of Jedburgh, the watchdog, claiming on its website to “give independent assurance to the people of Scotland that public money is spent properly, efficiently and effectively”, states: “We remain content that audit work previously completed by the external auditor of the council showed that the council had followed a reasonable process in the procurement of the waste management contract.

“We feel our assessment of this matter has been concluded.

“Unless there are significant new areas of concern, we will not respond to any further communication regarding the waste management contract at the council.”

Mr Chisholm said he was “disappointed, but not surprised” that Audit Scotland had rejected his calls.

“I believe Audit Scotland has made a gross misjudgement in refusing to look at what went wrong,” he told the Southern.

“A significant number of people who have read my report, including an eminent procurement expert, have expressed the view that there are many issues I have uncovered which would justify an investigation.

“Audit Scotland may have closed the file on this most blatant example of maladministration and mismanagement of public funds, but I have not.”

The council has declined to comment on Mr Chisholm’s report.