The office of the Scottish Information Commissioner declared on 22 June that it would investigate the City of Edinburgh Council over its failure to adhere to Freedom of Information (FOI) Legislation on matters pertaining to the council’s Gaza twinning petition.
The petitioner, Pete Gregson, had submitted an FOI request on 31March using the What do they know website, asking why his petition had been deleted from the council website; why the original hearing of June 2020 had been cancelled without explanation; why his subsequent attempts to get it debated were initially ignored; which Israeli body told the council to remove the item from the Policy Committee agenda on the 29March; why the council so readily agreed and what exactly had been said to them to make them do this.
Gregson had the answers to some of these questions already, ones he had gleaned by scouring Zionist websites and through a text message from the then City Council leader, Adam McVey, to the Lord Provost Frank Ross, which had been forwarded onto him. Indeed, Councillor McVey had told him that the council would be making a statement on the matter; when this never materialised beyond the bland “the council is taking legal advice”, Gregson felt he was due an explanation from the Chief Executive’s office. The UK Lawyers for Israel website had proudly declared it had told the council that the city councillors faced prosecution in accordance with anti-terrorism legislation if they supported twinning. Their website declared “Since Gaza City is ruled by Hamas, which is proscribed in its entirety under the Terrorism Act 2000, it seems inevitable that councillors or officer who participate in twinning activities would commit criminal offences.”
Police Scotland: nothing illegal about twinning Edinburgh with Gaza
Following this action, Gregson set up the Edina Gaza Twinning Association, with the mayor of Gaza, Dr Yahya Saraj, as the Honorary President. He then handed himself into the police. He explained that Israel thought the mayor to be Hamas and thus himself to be supporting terrorism; Police Scotland informed him there was nothing illegal about his twinning activities. Gregson’s Jewish barrister, Michael Mansfield QC, concurred with this view.
The council subsequently gave extremely unsatisfactory answers to Gregson’s FOI questions and so he asked for an internal review. The council failed to respond after the 20-day period assigned by law and so Gregson reported them to the Scottish Information Commissioner. He is also unhappy with the way the council has handled his request for information on his “twinning with Gaza”. As well as asking why his original council petition was deleted from the council website (see it at www.twingaza.com/what-you-can-do/#petition), he also wanted to know why the council is refusing to tell the truth about Israeli interference in our civic affairs.
Gregson suspects the chief executive of Edinburgh Council, Andrew Kerr, is behind these actions. He notes that the council website declares that:
“According to Council Statute, the chief executive is expected, in respect of politically controversial matters and material decisions, to follow this guidance:
2.1 Where a decision or action proposed to be taken under delegated powers is likely to be regarded as politically controversial or is a decision (“Material Decision”) that will have or is likely to have:
(a) a significant effect on financial, reputational or operational risk; and/or (b) a significant impact on service delivery or performance;
– the appropriate elected members will be consulted before any decision or action is taken. Appropriate elected members will include the relevant convener or vice-convener(s) and, where appropriate, the leader and/or deputy leader.
It appears that email communications between the petitioner and the then leader of Edinburgh Council, Cllr Adam McVey, suggest that the chief executive made political decisions on the Gaza Twinning Petition without consulting the councillors elected to run the city.
Kerr is the highest paid local authority employee in the capital in 2019/20, with a salary of £175,740, getting paid more than the First Minister [Nichola Sturgeon]. I don’t know why he thinks he can get away with this. He reserves absolute control over council affairs and is empowered to intervene where he considers the security of the city is at stake; it seems that our 63 elected councillors have little control over him.
The council officers have not provided truthful answers and have furthermore failed to carry out the internal review into my concerns, as required by law.
Why have the council officers been instructed to avoid giving honest answers to my FOI? What is the Corporate Management Team trying to hide
Gregson hopes the information commissioner may succeed in shining a light into the dark recesses of the Chief Executive’s office, in particular, and that councillors themselves realise they have not been consulted when they should have been.