SOUTH Lanarkshire councillors were this week facing an audit of their expenses going back five years.
Accountants from PriceWaterhouseCoopers were called in by chief executive Archie Strang on Friday after he received half a dozen anonymous e-mails, purportedly from disgruntled council workers.
The messages expressed concern for the future of the worker responsible for the loss of £102,000 to African conmen.
There was also a suggestion that SNP Opposition leader Anne Maggs fiddled her expenses when attending a conference in 2005 in Torbay.
It was alleged that she claimed first class rail fare for the journey to Torbay but travelled in a fellow councillor's car - for nothing.
Mr Strang said: “On Friday, I contacted the external auditor given the very tense and embarrassing e-mails that were sailing about. He will look at everything, not just the content of the e-mails but the overall financial position because the e-mails cover a whole lot of issues.
“Regarding councillors’ expenses, the auditor will examine what claims were made and what was part of the claims.”
Mr Strang called in the auditors on Friday after receiving an e-mail – also sent to 4000 other South Lanarkshire council staff – from corporate committee chairman Hugh Dunsmuir drawing attention to e-mails he had received from employees.
He asked Mr Strang to investigate the contents of the messages.
One was from a “disgruntled and angry group of South Lanarkshire workers”.
They said they were appalled that some elected members had called for the “sacking” of the member of staff responsible for the loss of £102,000.
The e-mail goes on: “An innocent mistake has been made by a member of staff after the individual was duped by a professional gang of fraudsters.
“Many members will recall that there was no call for the (finance director) Linda Hardie’s head when she lost millions of council (cash) in the Icelandic banks fiasco.”
And the e-mail goes on: “It is widely known that councillor Maggs has claimed expenses illegitimately. Why is she being protected?”
On Friday afternoon, Mr Strang sent a reply to councillor Dunsmuir – again, copying in about 4000 staff – stating that no staff members had raised with him the concernsoutlined in the e- mails.
He said the person duped by the conmen “had not been disciplined or disadvantaged”.
Allegations concerning councillor Maggs has been investigated by the Standards Commission. The commission had concluded that: “it would serve no useful purpose and not be in the public interest to investigate the complaint further”.
Mr Strang said: “They have taken no action. As far as I am concerned these matters are closed.”
However, Labour Group business manager Jim Docherty called on Mr Strang to conduct his own inquiry into the allegations.
An SNP spokesman said Councillor Maggs has never made any secret of the fact that she travelled to Torbay with Councillor Gerry Convery and another councillor, and added: “At the time, councillor Maggs received a sum of money prior to the conference, in line with the accepted practice at that time for all councillors attending a conference.
“Councillor Maggs spent her allocation of money on hotel accommodation and lunches travelling to and from the conference venue and at no time fraudulently claimed any money from the council.
“Councillor Maggs and the SNP Group welcome the fact that the council auditors have been called in and will co-operate fully with them and would go even further and ask that independent auditors from Audit Scotland investigate all money paid out for conferences from this period.”