A COUNCILLOR was told he broke elected members' code of conduct after questioning how much the council spent on proposals to purchase the Rivergate.

Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol had requested an answer on all costs spent preparing a bid to purchase ‘a centre’ ahead of that afternoon’s budget meeting on Wednesday, February 28.

As previously revealed by the Times, councillors considered the purchase of the shopping centre during a confidential Special Council Meeting on December 20, 2017 - before the £55million bid was rejected by a majority vote.

Last week Cllr McNicol asked: “Will the leader of the council inform members of all costs associated with the proposal. That is preparation of the due diligence report, legal costs, surveyors costs and any other associated costs, will he also inform members of which budget the monies were paid and who authorised the payments?”

“As it is budget day I would appreciate an answer by 2pm this afternoon before the budget.”

Chief Executive Elma Murray told the councillor: “Unfortunately you have breached the councillors code of conduct in your question.

“We will pick that up with you after the meeting, I don’t think that it is appropriate to do it here.”

Cllr McNicol disagreed that he had breached the code of conduct.

A North Ayrshire Council spokesperson told the Times: “We are reviewing the comments made by Councillor McNicol. We are also seeking guidance from the Information Commission after receiving two Freedom of Information requests relating to the same matter.

“Their feedback will allow us to make a further judgement on all these issues in due course.”

Cllr McNicol had earlier asked if any inquiry had taken place after a ‘Labour insider’ spoke about the confidential bid to another newspaper.

Council leader Joe Cullinane told the meeting that no enquiry had been carried out into the identity of the Labour member and that the response – which claimed NAC-ownership of a mall could result in Irvine getting a multi-screen cinema – had been approved by Chief Executive Elma Murray.

He said: “He or she sought advice from the Council’s Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer in advance of providing a response to the paper. The Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer were happy the information supplied did not breach the Councillors Code of Conduct, nor release confidential information. The insider did not confirm that such a proposal had been discussed. I can’t confirm that the Council considered any ‘deal’.

“We believe it is vital to the future of our area that we are bold and radical enough to consider issues of ownership of local assets or other commercial opportunities to bring in new revenue streams to the council in order to fight austerity.

“It would never be about owning a shopping centre but about the regeneration opportunities that it offered. Ownership of a centre could open many doors for the local area. The profits that any centre/ asset generates would enable the council to deliver millions of pounds of investment in the local area over the next decade and beyond.

“Any surplus funds from a good proposal could be used to build a new multi-screen cinema, probably in Irvine because of the footfall, and aligned to the cinema a new food court could be developed, which could address the current recognised shortage of enough places to eat around the centre of Irvine.

“Again, I cannot confirm that there was a ‘deal’ discussed.

Cllr Cullinane added: “It is hard to think, if such a proposal was in front of the council, why anyone would vote against it.”

During the Special Council Meeting on December 20, Labour voted for the plans with the Conservative/Independent groups voting against it, while the SNP split between members within Irvine and Kilwinning voting in favour and others across North Ayrshire rejecting the bid.

The meeting was held in private over 'exempt information' defined in the Local Government (Scotland) act as "relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (other than the authority), "The amount of expenditure proposed to be incurred by the authority under any particular contract for the acquisition of property' and "any terms proposed or to be proposed by or to the authority in the course of negotiations for a contract for the acquisition or disposal of property or the supply of goods or services."

North Ayrshire Council previously said: “All elected members must adhere to the Councillors Code of Conduct. Section 3 of the Code makes it clear that if papers are confidential, councillors must observe such requirements for confidentiality.

"Anyone found in breach of this could face sanctions from the Standards Commission for Scotland, varying from censure to disqualification.”