Dundee City Council leader John Alexander has been reported to authority officials over an alleged breach of election rules.
North East MSP Maurice Golden raised concerns about a social media post by Mr Alexander describing how £2.32 million of Covid economic recovery funding previously awarded to the council will be allocated.
He argues most people reading the post would believe it describes an SNP policy announcement ahead of May’s local election rather than the ordinary business of the council allocating funds.
What did John Alexander actually say?
In a lengthy post on Facebook on April 22, Mr Alexander bemoaned the lack of attention given to his group’s initial announcement in the local press.
He wrote: “Our SNP group has announced multi-million pound funding, with £800,000 for the FuelWell scheme, giving people direct financial support to keep the lights and heating on and £400,000 to support all the city’s food groups (foodbanks and food larders) for the year ahead.
“This surprisingly isn’t worth prominence despite being a lifeline to people in Dundee.”
The post was published in the middle of the pre-election period sometimes known as purdah, where civil servants – including council officers – are expected to avoid significant, new announcements relating to the use of public money.
Mr Golden has written to the council’s chief executive Greg Colgan – who holds a dual role as returning officer in Dundee – urging him to investigate.
Mr Alexander described the Tory’s MSPs concerns as “nonsense”.
Councillors are free to issue press releases during the pre-election period.
But it raises fresh questions for Dundee City Council over why a meeting to award large sums of public money was scheduled so close to the election.
Mr Alexander’s post also came days before the authority’s policy and resources committee actually agreed on Monday how to distribute the cash.
Mr Golden said: “The UK Government gave the SNP an extra £13.3 billion to help Scotland recover from the pandemic.
“Only SNP-run Dundee City Council would hold back their share to try and win an election.
“Rather than helping those in need, this is a thinly veiled bit of purdah-busting propaganda which John Alexander desperately wanted a headline from.”
The North East MSP said the council must “look to its standards and how normal revenue allocation has been spun to look like a manifesto item.”
“It is also not a good look for local democracy for the council leader to prejudge a committee vote,” he said.
“As such I will be writing to the returning officer to investigate potential rule-breaking at a critical point in the pre-election campaign.”
Council leader rejects criticism
Mr Alexander said it was “absolutely essential” that funding came forward at Monday’s meeting of the committee “to provide certainty to foodbanks and food groups across Dundee”.
“With funding coming to an end in April, these groups would have been without vital funding to run their operations had we not taken the report,” he said.
“That would have been unacceptable and Mr Golden’s approach could have the death nail for organisations and their ability to support Dundonians accessing food banks and services.”
John Alexander said group leaders, including Conservative councillors, on Dundee City Council met on April 8 and supported bringing forward the allocation.
A spokesman for Dundee City Council said the chief executive will respond to Mr Golden “in due course”.