A council chief has been criticised for a lockdown trip to Dubai which saw her forced into self-isolation on the last days of her £134,000-a-year job.
East Ayrshire Council chief executive Fiona Lees was ordered to stay at home as she retired on Friday after coming into contact with someone with coronavirus during what she described as an “essential” trip to the sunshine spot, where her son is understood to live.
The 63-year-old was insistent she had “complied fully” with restrictions throughout the pandemic as she retired with more than 40 years in local government under her belt.
But a union representing the local authority’s workforce branded the trip “scandalous”, saying it undermines the stay at home message the council is sending to its staff.
In a statement to the Record, the outgoing chief executive said: “Throughout this pandemic I have led by example, complying fully with the Covid restrictions and encouraging employees, colleagues and communities to do the same.
“I can confirm that I did travel to Dubai at the end of December on what I consider to be an essential journey. I was tested for Covid upon my arrival, in line with the entry requirements for travellers to Dubai. This test was negative.
“I completed a Passenger Locator Form prior to my return to Scotland and was subsequently contacted by Test and Protect on Sunday, January 10. I was advised of the need to self-isolate and can confirm that I am currently doing so.
“I have worked in local government for 42 years, 26 of which have been with East Ayrshire and as I bow out of public sector service this week, I have never felt more proud of our employees and communities and our collective response as we tackle the impact of Coronavirus.”
The United Arab Emirates was removed from the UK travel corridor list this week, with travellers returning to Scotland being ordered to quarantine on arrival for 10 days since 4am on Monday.
In addition, passengers who had travelled to Scotland from Dubai since January 3 were also being asked to isolate for 10 days, from the date they arrived back in the country.
Lees, from Ayr, is understood to have spent New Year in Dubai, where her son Jack works, and returned in recent days. She did not specify the reason for her trip.
A council spokeswoman confirmed: “On the matter of self-isolation, the Test and Protect notification indicated there had been a Covid contact.”
Union GMB, which represents around 12,000 of the council’s employees, yesterday called on the chief executive to explain her journey.
Scotland organiser Barry Fletcher said: “We have a massive membership in East Ayrshire Council’s Care at Home service and I’m currently in the process of arguing with the council to get them to pay for lateral flow tests that these staff need to take at home to protect themselves on the frontline.
“Now we’ve got the chief executive taking a trip to Dubai and then coming home and having to self isolate while getting paid. I think it’s absolutely scandalous.”
“We’ve just had the chief exec of Celtic Football Club coming out saying they’ve made a massive mistake by the team going there.
“Fiona Lees is saying it was an essential trip, but she should come out publicly and explain the reasons why she felt it necessary to make a trip to Dubai when the whole of Scotland is in the middle of a pandemic and the Scottish Government guidelines are to stay at home.”
Another council source, who did not want to be named, branded the trip “hypocritical”, saying workers have been constantly reminded of the importance of the stay at home message.
In September, Lees defended her decision to retire at a time when the council was in the grip of a public health and financial crisis.
She told our sister paper the Kimarnock Standard: “What the community will see from me is me working until the very last day I’m here. I’ve invested a huge amount of my life here – in many ways this is like a big part of my family.”
She added: “The thing that makes me most proud is how we have dealt with Covid.
“Because although we’ve dealt with difficulties in the past, we’ve never dealt with anything that’s been trying to kill us.
“The way our communities and teams have worked together; I’ve never been more proud.”
Council documents recorded Lees’ annual salary as £134,000 in August.
Figures revealed Lees earned £152,214 for 2018-19, when her basic salary was boosted by a pension payment of £24,625.
Lees is expected to receive a hefty retirement package after more than four decades in the public sector.
As of March last year she was in line for a £79,000 pension, with a £154,000 lump sum.
-- to www.dailyrecord.co.uk