CouncilHIGHLAND Council chiefs have admitted bungling in their quest to cut the organisation’s carbon output.

They have confessed to gaps in data recording over the past three years which have made it impossible to get a grip on the scale of the emissions.

Planning director Stuart Black, who oversees the process, gave the council’s audit and scrutiny committee a pledge that it would not be allowed to happen – for a fourth successive year.

The council must comply with a UK-wide “carbon reduction commitment efficiency scheme” for its duration – before that is abolished next April and replaced with a climate change levy.

A report to councillors explained how monitoring of public buildings fitted with solar panels was incomplete.

Some “data” was calculated for two sites that were deleted the previous year.

Despite previous agreed action, “no record of eligible sites has been established,” the report stated.

It added: “There is no definitive site list.

“There is no robust system in place to capture meter readings for renewable energy from photovoltaic solar panels.”

Mr Black offered an apology for the audit’s revelations.

Council leader Margaret Davidson told colleagues: “Our carbon emissions are more than they should be and it’s costing us a lot of money.

“That can’t be changed unless we’ve got accurate management and record keeping.”

She said she would request that officials review the processes, how decisions are made within the relevant department and the scrutiny of the work it does.

Speaking afterwards, councillor Roddy Balfour, a colleague in the minority independent administration said it amounted to “gross incompetence”.

He said he hoped the audit and scrutiny committee, which is chaired by opposition SNP councillor Graham MacKenzie, would ensure that the issues would be urgently addressed and keep the council within national guidelines associated with climate change policies.

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie, a former councillor, said: “The council’s latest bungle is seriously concerning.

“It’s failed to collect data which is necessary to assess its contribution to tackling climate change. A commitment that ‘it would not be allowed to happen for a fourth successive year’ is cold comfort. It should not have been allowed to get to this stage.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. When the council does collect information it regularly ignores it – all too evident in the shambles that is their public toilet closure plan.

“Let’s hope the appointment of a new chief executive will bring a renewed focus on evidencing decisions, by both collecting the appropriate evidence and acting on it.”

Borders Council education director Donna Manson takes over the council’s top job from Steve Barron who is to retire in November.

n A separate audit has exposed a raft of problems involving council credit card use.

It revealed poor practice including card holders failing to get VAT receipts.

Council convener Bill Lobban told colleagues on the audit and scrutiny committee it was “a particularly serious matter,” with a quarter of sample cards studied not being compliant.

City councillor Duncan Macpherson suggested that “pilfering” was a common problem for many organisation, adding that he was sure the council was not exempt from that.