This full council meeting looked to be fairly straightforward, perhaps even mundane. With what looked like a very light agenda, many councillors were questioning why no business was coming to councillors for decision; with a suspicion that everything was on hold until after the Independence Referendum. That suggestion, made by Councillor Carolyn Wilson, the Leader of the Opposition, drew an angry response from council leader, Drew Hendry, who also disliked claims that he has sacked two committee chairman with responsibility for the most important areas of council policy and service delivery. There was an air of false indignation as Drew Hendry denied the removal of Dave Fallows (Finance and Resources) and Graham Phillips (Community Services) was anything more than normal council business. All political leaders need to refresh their teams and remove people who aren’t performing or on message. Despite Drew Hendry’s bluff and bluster no one seemed convinced – we all know both councillors were sacked.
Service Point Review
Following the almighty row at the last council meeting, over plans to close dozens of service points in the Highlands, we received a report back from the committee undertaking the review of these closures. A fairly routine set of minutes, but nearly the whole meeting was held in private. I hope that isn’t the case for future meetings, they need to be open and transparent so residents can see the case put forward for closure or retention.
Questions, questions, questions
Fellow councillors were bemused that I tabled so many questions for answering at the meeting, but it is an important opportunity to highlight ward issues and lobby council leaders in public. It’s far more difficult for an issue to be ignored or side-stepped if the press are at the meeting or it can be viewed on online. So I asked questions about when Lochaber councillors will get an opportunity to meet with the Transport minister to discuss the long-term future of the Corran Ferry and a fixed link across the narrows. I reminded councillors that although a link road for Fort William is on the council’s capital expenditure programme, it will never happen without government support and funding. And finally, I elicited the surprisingly frank admission from Councillor Graham Phillips that he had no knowledge that officers had snatched back £600,000 from the roads repair budget and that if had he would have stopped it. That response, drew a sharp intake of breath followed by silence as councillors realised the importance of that statement – who is leading the council officers or councillors? The startled looks on his SNP colleague’s faces suggested they were not pleased at his honest response, but then he is clearly not pleased that he was sacked as committee chairman.
Under the microscope
A report from Audit Scotland titled “An Overview of Local Government in Scotland 2014” may not be everyone’s ideal bedtime reading, but it has important implications about how we deliver those services we all expect the council to provide. With further government funding cuts on the way, Richard Laird, urged us to look at the bigger picture and noted that although we often have disagreements, we never descend to the personal insults and acrimony that has destabilised other councils, such as Argyll and Bute. He’s right, the administration has a tough few years ahead, with massive savings needed to balance the budget. My role outside the administration, is to scrutinise their plans, argue for the interests of my ward and respect and to do so without any personal animosity. Helen Carmichael ingeniously found another way of raising the issue of the road repairs funding claw back, asking how we can scrutinise the council if we are not given clear and transparent information. It’s an issue that will certainly see fierce debate at this week’s community services committee.