THE SNP last night called for Audit Scotland to investigate the financial side of the George Square redesign contest after claims Glasgow City Council paid judges thousands of pounds in expenses without receipts.

The spending watchdog is already looking at the £100,000 competition as part of its annual audit of the council's management.

The contest ended in farce earlier this year after Labour council leader Gordon Matheson announced the revamp of the square had been scrapped just minutes after the judging panel had picked a design he detested, and had ranked his preferred option fourth out of six.

Now it has emerged that the council paid two of the four external judges £6000 on top of their fees as "expenses" without asking for any receipts to justify the expenditure.

David Mackay, the Barcelona-based architect who was the original chair of the judging panel before Matheson displaced him, was paid a flat £5000 on top of his £5000 fee. His fellow judge, Professor Andy MacMillan, the former head of Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and Mackintosh School of Architecture, was paid £1000 in expenses on top of his £2000 fee.

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS), which ran the contest for the city, last night claimed the expenses were, in fact, a face-saving "subterfuge" by the council, after it tried and failed to cut Mackay's fee, and that Mackay's actual expenses were paid separately by RIAS.

RIAS secretary Neil Baxter said the council tried to cut Mackay's £10,000 fee to £5000 when Matheson insisted on being chair, but backed down when threatened with legal action. However, in order to maintain in public that Mackay only received a £5000 fee, a further £5000 was paid under the guise of expenses.

Baxter said: "They were not really expenses. It was a subterfuge to cover the council's embarrassment over the leader's behaviour."

Graeme Hendry, leader of the council's SNP opposition group, said no blame was attached to the judges, but said the method of payment was symptomatic of the council's cavalier approach to taxpayers' money.

The aborted design contest cost taxpayers £100,000 and the architects involved £200,000.

Hendry said: "To pay expenses without seeking any evidence to show they were incurred is highly irregular and shows the level of chaos caused by Cllr Matheson's monumental failures in judgment over George Square. While this figure is only a fraction of the total wasted, I am sure Audit Scotland will be concerned by the practise.

He added: "This adds to the impression that Cllr Matheson has no idea what happens with the finances of his council under his watch."

Matheson's role in the competition is already being investigated by Police Scotland's Major Crimes and Public Protection Division and the Standards Commissioner for Scotland.

A council spokesman said the RIAS claims were "simply untrue", adding: "The relationship with the judges was managed by RIAS and payments were agreed in advance."

Audit Scotland said it would consider the SNP's request when it arrived in writing.