A FORMER aide to Jack McConnell was last night caught up in a fresh cronyism row after it emerged that her firm has been handed another public sector contract.

Jeane Freeman, who resigned as an adviser to the First Minister last May, has been hired by Scottish Enterprise (SE) Glasgow to work with the quango's chief executive, advising the organisation on a new economic strategy. She will be paid around pounds-5720 for a few days' work, spanning several months.

Critics say the deal "reeks to high heaven" because SE Glasgow, which has strong Labour links, awarded the job without it being tendered.

Last month it emerged that, just weeks after its creation, Freeman Associates had been hired by the Scottish Executive in November to advise on a report about the under-fives. Executive officials confirmed the company would be paid pounds-5000 for 10 days' work over several months. The job was awarded to Freeman, who worked for the First Minister between 2001 and 2005, without a tendering exercise.

Freeman Associates' new contract with SE Glasgow will see Freeman work with chief executive Ron Culley, advising on the quango's 10-year economic strategy for the city. Officials awarded the contract without allowing other consultancies to bid. The threshold for an open tender is thought to be pounds-10,000.

SE Glasgow chairman Willie Haughey is a well-known donor to Scottish Labour, and chief executive Culley tried to become a Labour candidate in 1999. Board member Alan Clements is a close friend of the First Minister.

Freeman was one of McConnell's most trusted aides during the first four years of his administration. She ensured Labour policies were implemented by the civil service. The pair reportedly fell out after the First Minister failed to intervene when her partner, Susan Stewart, was called back by the UK government from an ambassadorial role in the US.

SNP MSP Alex Neil, who chairs the parliament's enterprise committee, said: "There is a Labour mafia at work. If you carry a Labour Party card, your chances of getting work within certain sections of Scottish Enterprise increase tenfold. This reeks to high heaven."

Freeman said yesterday: "I have over 25 years' experience at chief executive and board level in the private and public sectors. In returning to that work I have neither sought nor received special treatment and have attracted clients on the basis of my professional reputation."

A spokesman for SE Glasgow confirmed Freeman Associates had been hired but declined to comment further.