A ROW has erupted between SNP ministers and a Labour-run council over a secret investigation into a charity that has had its funding cut off following concerns about how it is run.

Voluntary Sector Gateway West Lothian, which is supposed to offer support and advice to charities and act as a link between the groups and the local authority, is understood to have been heavily criticised in a Scottish Government commissioned report, which was ordered following long-standing allegations over governance.

However, ministers have so far refused to publish the report or share it with West Lothian Council, leaving the local authority to resort to submitting Freedom of Information requests, which have so far been blocked in Edinburgh, in its bid to uncover the findings. The council recently lodged a formal appeal following the Government's refusal, saying that loopholes which allow ministers to refuse to provide information had not been applied appropriately.

Social Justice secretary Alex Neil said last week that the Government was unable to publish the report due to a separate probe from charity regulator OSCR, which is ongoing.

However, OSCR appeared to refute the claim, saying the report did not inform its investigation and that its publication was "a matter for the Scottish Government". Following the intervention, the Government indicated that would reconsider its stance.

The charity has seen almost £200,000 of Scottish Government funding this year and more than £120,000 of council funding over two years withheld due to concerns that West Lothian Council officers say "remain outstanding".

The controversy has taken on a political dimension with West Lothian Council run by Labour and the charity chaired by SNP councillor Willie Boyle, a prominent local party activist in the area.

Neil Findlay, the Lothians Labour MSP, said it was clear there were "very significant problems" at the charity and that refusing to publish the report was unacceptable, with the organisation vital for the well-being of the voluntary sector across West Lothian.

He added: "Given it is also an organisation that has spent significant amounts of public money, this report must be made public. I hope that the Scottish Government, given they paid for this report, see sense and ensure that the principles of openness and transparency are adhered to. If they don’t then some may interpret that as someone having something to hide."

The findings of the report, which was finished earlier this year and was carried out independently by the respected firm Avante Consulting, are understood to be disputed by senior figures within the Voluntary Sector Gateway. One figure accused Labour of harbouring a vendetta against the group and attempting to turn the charity into a "political football".

Laura Anderson, Head of Enforcement at OSCR, said: "It would not be appropriate for us to comment on the progress of our inquiry into the charity, but we can confirm that it is the result of governance issues raised with us by the charity’s own trustees. We have not received any complaints from third parties about the charity’s governance.

"The Scottish Government, as the charity’s funder, commissioned a report into Voluntary Sector Gateway West Lothian, and we can confirm that we have had sight of it. However, the report does not inform our inquiry and its publication remains a matter for the Scottish Government."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said it had been "actively engaging" with the charity in a number of areas. She added: "We were just recently made aware that our report does not inform OSCR’s inquiry, and therefore we are now reconsidering matters in relation to any release of the report.

"The third sector plays a crucial role in our efforts to tackle poverty and inequalities and we are committed to helping it develop in West Lothian and across Scotland. It is important that the local third sector is well supported, and that effective working partnerships are in place."

Voluntary Sector Gateway West Lothian refused to comment.