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OIC chief vows to uncover ‘full facts’ of stone order

The OIC-owned Cursiter Quarry. (Orkney Photographic)

Orkney Islands Council’s interim chief executive has broken his silence today over the authority’s decision to purchase 80,000 tonnes of stone from a quarry near Oban, and slammed those who have “vilified” his colleagues on social media before the full facts have been determined.

Responding to a series of questions raised by The Orcadian, John Mundell has maintained that he is unwilling at this stage to answer questions over procurement processes, and the costs of importing the stone — until the authority’s internal review is complete.

He said: “The purchase of stone from the Glensanda Quarry has understandably resulted in many questions being asked of us by our local media and the wider public in Orkney.

“The first thing to say is that it is important that the council secure a supply of stone to supplement the remaining reserves at our own Cursiter Quarry, which are running very low.  I also understand the importance and benefit of buying locally in Orkney whenever practicable.

“Many construction projects across Orkney depend on the aggregates and ‘tarmac’ Cursiter provides. Without a ready supply, there is a real risk that projects of this kind could grind to a standstill or fail to get underway at all.

“That said, we need to know if the correct procedures were followed in the way the stone was procured. Without pre-judging this, if something went wrong, we need to know why and take steps, if possible, to rectify any errors and establish what needs to be done to prevent anything similar happening again in future.

“This is why, following discussion with council officers, I instructed a review by our internal audit team. The review has been underway since Monday, February 1.

“I want to explain why I am unwilling at this stage to provide specific answers to some of the questions we’re being asked by the media and by the wider public in Orkney.

“We’ve been asked whether the correct tendering processes were followed? Were local businesses approached to see if they could provide the stone we required? How much is the stone and its transportation to Orkney and to Cursiter costing?

“These are very important questions which will be answered in full when the internal audit team has conducted its review. I want the full facts to be known before we respond further to the questions we are being asked.

“In due course, the detailed findings will be reported to and considered by the monitoring and audit committee, the committee of councillors tasked with scrutinising the way the organisation conducts its business.

“Members of the committee will expect an objective, robust and thorough review to have been carried out — and will decide whether to endorse the conclusions and recommendations made.

“In addition, the council’s external auditors, Audit Scotland, are aware of the current situation, are always represented at meetings of the monitoring and audit committee and reserve the right to further review the findings of our own internal audits.

“An organisation that provides public services can expect — and sometimes deserve — criticism. But some of the comments posted on local social media channels recently have been truly shocking.

“Colleagues have been vilified in a way most would consider to be a defamation of character. Like everyone in our community, our staff deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. ‘Trial by social media’ is completely unacceptable and has a detrimental effect on all of us, especially as most people in Orkney have family members, friends and neighbours who work for OIC.

“What I can say is that I have never had cause to doubt this council’s commitment to our local community. I would ask folk not to pre-judge matters before the full facts are known. Kindness to each other is something our community is renowned for. It seems to be missing in some quarters at the moment — and is much needed in the difficult circumstances we are all living through as a result of the pandemic.”

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