NORTH Lanarkshire council, which is embroiled in a scandal involving its Labour leader, has been accused of a cover-up after the council’s SNP group were refused permission to see an internal audit report on the matter.

In the report, the Labour-run council’s auditors voiced their concerns over council leader Jim Logue and the running of the council’s arms-length external organisation North Lanarkshire Leisure Ltd (NLL).

The auditors said that NLL set up two subsidiary companies, ESCA UK Ltd and No Limits Leisure Ltd, in 2011, with Logue acting as a director of both firms from 2012 until they were dissolved four years later.

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The auditors said that the establishment of the companies was “opaque” and Logue did not include the directorships in his register of interests.

Last week, Police Scotland confirmed it was investigating allegations concerning Logue and said enquiries were ongoing. Logue denies all the allegations as “spurious” and has vowed to carry on as leader despite being asked to step aside while inquiries are ongoing.

The scandal took an unexpected twist yesterday when the SNP group – they have more members than Labour who needed Conservative support to form the administration – were told they could not see the audit report.

SNP business manager Councillor Allan Stubbs asked officials for the report but was told that it would not be released.

Furthermore, council chief executive Paul Jukes said that any attempt to use Freedom of Information laws to get sight of the report would be resisted and would fail – even though it is the report which has ultimately triggered the police inquiry.

Jukes told Stubbs: “I have now sought guidance from the audit manager and the head of legal and democratic solutions.

“I am satisfied following those discussions that the council’s long-standing practice of retaining investigative audit reports should be maintained in this instance.”

Jukes also listed five ways that the council would seek to avoid releasing the document if a Freedom of Information request was made.

Jukes wrote: “Having sought guidance from the council’s legal and democratic solutions staff I am satisfied that a number of exemptions would be available to the council should your request be processed under FoI.”

One of the exemptions that might apply is that the report was “held with a view to the council ascertaining whether it would be appropriate to make a report to the Procurator Fiscal”.

Jukes added: “I should emphasise that in relation to this exemption, the council has arrived at a concluded view that there is no potential criminality disclosed by its investigations.”

Cllr Stubbs said: “I am disappointed that Councillor Logue seems determined to carry on as leader while being investigated by police, despite the obvious damage it will cause to the reputation of North Lanarkshire as a whole.

“I am deeply concerned that the administration appears to be doing everything within its power to block us from seeing the full detail of this report.

“As the opposition on the council we have a duty to scrutinise the actions of the administration and we are being prevented from doing so. By going to such lengths as involving the council’s lawyers to block the release of this report, it inevitably raises more questions about what exactly they are trying to stop us seeing and how much pressure is coming from the council leader to block its release.

“The Labour administration should release the details of the report immediately and stop spending council money on finding ways to cover it up.”

Legal issues and Freedom of Information (FoI) campaigner Peter Cherbi, who is reckoned to have filed more FoI requests than anyone else in Scotland, commented: “A council chief executive prejudging FoI requests before they are even submitted for information in a key report containing details likely of interest to the police in their ongoing investigations of NLC figures cannot be justified in terms of the FoI law.

“An FoI request cannot be judged to be exempt before it has even been made, and the tone of these remarks appear designed to deter any FoI requests, from opposition councillors, members of the public or the media.

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“This is clearly a matter the Scottish Information Commissioner should take note of and make suitable investigations.”

Jukes said: “I am disappointed at the implication that I, or any other officer of this council, is engaged in inappropriately suppressing information. Council officers act without fear or favour and are required to treat council business in an even-handed manner.

“A summary of the report has been made available publicly and to the Audit and Scrutiny Panel. The council has a long-standing practice of retaining investigative reports and I am satisfied that this practice should be maintained in this case.”