A COUNCIL leader has admitted being friends with executives with whom his administration is re-negotiating a £30m-a-year deal.


North Lanarkshire's Jim McCabe confirmed he was close with senior officials at a company involved in a housing repairs contract at the centre of a Labour civil war.

However, Mr McCabe denied his relationship with Mears Scotland managing director Willie Docherty had prompted him to favour rewriting the deal in the company's favour.

The veteran has been the target of private briefings about his friendship with Mr Docherty - husband of Glasgow Lord Provost Sadie Docherty - ever since official papers first suggested that Mears Scotland should be allowed to forgo millions in best-value savings.

The issue has bitterly divided Labour just as it faces the first real Westminster challenge in its Lanarkshire heartlands for decades.

Mr McCabe described those who whispered about his friendship as "malcontents and cowards".

He said: "Let me tell you this: I don't care who it is - Willie Docherty or anybody else.

"If the service to my people is not what it should be, then I will deal with them.

"Friendship means nothing if the people are not getting served."

The council leader insisted the deal with Mears was giving tenants in North Lanarkshire the best repairs service they had ever had.

He said: "Given we have the third lowest rents in Scotland, I think we are doing not so badly with housing."

Mr McCabe said that Mears Scotland, in which the council has a one-third stake, was losing money and that Mears, its commercial partner, could walk away if it did not get a better deal.

He stressed he had known the Dochertys "very well" since long before Mr Docherty was appointed to his current post in 2012.

Mr McCabe was photographed at a civil reception for Lord Provost Docherty in Lifford, County Donegal, in 2013. Mr McCabe confirmed he had spent time with the Dochertys in Ireland "three or four times, maybe more".

However, he said he had never stayed at what Labour insiders refer to as the Dochertys' "beautiful home" in Ireland's most northerly county.

Mr McCabe also shares a passion for Celtic and golf with Mr Docherty. However, he stressed he paid his own way when he went to the football.

Asked if he had accepted hospitality from Mears, he said: "Sometimes I go and sometimes I don't.

"I am in a position where I don't have to depend on anybody. I have been lucky enough to work all my life; I have never been idle.

"I don't need nothing off anybody. Where somebody is paying for me, I would declare."

Mr McCabe was not under any obligation to formally declare the friendship and he did not do so.

Mr McCabe also said he was friendly with Steve Kelly, Mr Docherty's lieutenant at Mears, with whom he also golfs.

He confirmed he had bought Mr Kelly's car, a 2009-plate Honda CR-V, but said this was done through a reputable dealer.

Both Mr Docherty and Mr Kelly joined Mears after receiving substantial redundancy packages from City Building, Glasgow City Council's arms-length construction and repairs business.

Mr McCabe stressed he had played no role in appointing the men, but said he had been impressed by City Building.

Clearly frustrated about whispers about his relationship with both men, he said: "What angers me most is that fact critics have gone behind your back and not come to you face to face.

"People who make these accusations and go to newspapers first, quite frankly they are malcontents and cowards in to the bargain."

Mr McCabe said be believed good relationships with contractors helped forge a "rapport" that would benefit tenants.

David Miles, chief executive of Mears, the corporation that owns the other two-thirds of Mears Scotland, agreed. Mr Miles said: "Mears have positive relationships at every level of our partnership with North Lanarkshire.

"These relationships are why the contract is performing so successfully and delivering for local residents."