How Argyll & Bute Works: Complaint against me update

I am enormously grateful to all the people who have expressed their support over the last several days. I have had numerous emails, calls and people speaking to me in the street saying I have their backing.

If the commissioner for ethical standards does decide to investigate this complaint, then I will not be able to say anything more about it but right now I can still comment.

The first thing to say is that while this complaint (read here and here) has been lodged by officers of the council, it is  inconceivable that it was made without the OK of Cllr Walsh. Nothing of note happens in the council without his say so. I suspect that he instigated this complaint but, as a minimum, he gave it his blessing. He wants to shut me up, it’s as simple as that.

I have no doubt, though, that I am an irritation to some officers in the council but I only become that irritation when I think things are not right and in all cases much effort has gone into trying to resolve matters internally before anything gets into the public domain. The sad fact is, though, that getting any change is pretty close to being impossible. I think it’s right that councillors should be able to point out wrong doing; to be able to represent their communities and to try and make everyone in the council accountable, me included.

I need to make some brief comments on the 3 issues Mrs Loudon has raised in her letter to me:

I have been very vocal about what has been going on in Rothesay Harbour, as I have a right to, because I am one of the members of the harbour board. Cllrs Strong, Robert McIntyre, Gordon Blair and Bruce Marshall have all been vocal too because there appears to have been a vendetta against the owner of a commercial vessel that is now back in the harbour. However, it was kept out of the harbour for several years and had to berth in Ardrossan. There was a huge financial loss to the community in Bute not to mention inconvenience to the owner of the vessel. I have not put any of this in my blog for good reason and all of my efforts, and those of other councillors, have been internal to the council.

The saga of the sale of Castle Toward has been reflected here because there was such overwhelming support for this buy out the issues needed to be in the public domain. In any event, anything I have said has either already been in the public domain or could be put there by a freedom of information request. Anything officers did would have been in line with a political steer from you know who. Read the story of the failed buy out here.

The 3rd point in the complaint relates to the pay and conditions of the care workers who are employed by some contractors working for the council delivering care at home to the elderly. Cllr Blair and I have spent a lot of time on this and we are satisfied that what the care workers have told us  is true and that many of these staff are on rates of pay that appear to be well below the minimum wage. Nothing we have done within the council has had any effect and we remain of the view that this is a scandalous abuse of these workers. Surely standing up for minimum legal standards of pay is a reasonable position to take?

All in all, councillors are in a no win situation if they pursue a cause they believe to be just. On the other hand, people like Cllr Walsh get away with setting up secret, unaccountable committees and behind the scenes encourage officers to complain about other councillors.

Is it any wonder we don’t get many people standing for election?

Update: Michael Russell sent me the this!  voltaire

Brendan O’Hara MP and Tommy Sheppard MP

In the past few days some of the new group of SNP MPs have made their maiden speeches in the House of Commons.

Here are two very different speeches from Argyll & Bute’s Brendan O’Hara and East Edinburgh’s Tommy Sheppard:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4NObZwYJDk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhwMoPF6540

Enjoy

Argyll & Bute: How it works: Complaint against me and the response so far

Yesterday’s post (read here) has kick started a response from Michael Russell MSP. Overnight he has solicited support from people he was able to contact so that the press release below could be issued before any notification from the Ethics and Standards Commissioner. I am very grateful for this and reproduce the press release as supplied to me an hour or so ago:

To Newsdesks/Editors

From Heather Wolfe

Media release on behalf of Michael Russell MSP

 

Date 28/05/2015 Immediate Use

 

4 MSPs, an MP and 7 Councillors serving Argyll & Bute publicly challenge Council Chief Executive’s “unwelcome, unwise, unjustified and unacceptable” letter to Cllr Michael Breslin.

This Public Statement regarding the letter from the Chief Executive of Argyll & Bute Council to Cllr Michael Breslin has been agreed by a number of elected representatives serving Argyll & Bute, who are as follows:

Michael Russell MSP (Argyll & Bute) Mike MacKenzie MSP. (Regional Member, Highlands & Islands) Jean Urquhart MSP. (Regional Member, Highlands & Islands) John Finnie MSP ( Regional Member, Highlands & Islands) Brendan O’Hara MP (Argyll & Bute) Cllr Isobel Strong (former Provost, Argyll & Bute, SNP Bute) Cllr Robert MacIntyre (Convener, Bute & Cowal Area Committee, Independent, Bute)  Cllr Vivien Dance (Independent , Helensburgh Central) Cllr Bruce Marshall (Independent , Cowal) Cllr Gordon Blair (SNP, Cowal) Cllr Iain Maclean (SNP Oban North) & Lorn) Cllr Iain Angus MacDonald  (SNP Oban North)

“Cllr Michael Breslin has published on his website a letter he has received from Sally Loudon, the Chief Executive of Argyll & Bute.  It contains notice that she and her management team have referred Cllr Breslin to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in respect of his “conduct in relation to the disposal of the Castle Toward Estate, Rothesay Harbour and the pay and conditions of care at home workers” and that she is concerned about what she claims are Cllr Breslin’s   “sustained, repeated and public criticism of council officers.”

Should the Commissioner agree to investigate this complaint we would not be able to comment on the matter in public.   However as no investigation has started we wish to make it known publicly, as elected representatives in Argyll & Bute, that we regard Michael as an exceptional and diligent councillor who is working very hard for his constituents and for the people of Argyll & Bute.   He has been subject to much pressure from the Council leadership over recent months because of his strong advocacy for local communities with regard to important local issues.  It is greatly to his credit that he has refused to be deterred from speaking the truth as he sees it and we applaud his determination to ensure that the problems of the Council – and solutions to those problems – are known and debated across Argyll & Bute.

Any attempt to silence Cllr Breslin such as this letter from the Council Chief Executive is in our view unwelcome, unwise, unjustified and unacceptable and represents a further worrying development in the departure of Argyll & Bute from best standards and practice of democracy and governance.   These tactics should be strongly resisted by all who care about the area and its future.

We intend to write in support of Cllr Breslin to the Commissioner and to draw the attention of Audit Scotland to this development which is germane to its continuing investigation of the Council.  We will also  write to the Scottish Government expressing concern about the letter in the name of the Council Chief Executive and her 3 Executive Directors which we believe is harmful to the people they are employed to serve.”
-Ends-

 

Media enquiries to

Heather Wolfe

Parliamentary Office of Michael Russell MSP, Argyll and Bute

Tel 0131 348 5738

Email – heather.wolfe@scottish.parliament.uk

Argyll & Bute: how it works: a complaint against me

I have just received my post and in it was a letter from the council chief executive Mrs Loudon.

She and her colleagues have submitted a complaint against me to the Ethics and Standards Commissioner. If the commissioner decides to investigate the complaint I am not allowed to say anything in public about the proceedings. However, it may not be investigated so at this point I can make the letter from Mrs Loudon public, see below.

letter from s loudon 25 may 2015

HOW ARGYLL & BUTE MIGHT WORK BETTER

I have spent time and effort in this blog being critical of the way Argyll & Bute works, or not. That is right and proper in my view because there is much that is wrong with the council. Only yesterday I spoke to one of the lowest paid members of staff who told me in very blunt language that if the council was a private business it would have failed long ago.

Today I plan to email a brief report to all councillors in the council in an attempt to persuade them that there is an alternative way to address the major funding issues we have over the next few years. Read my earlier blogs on this here.

There are only 5 pages in my report and these should be an easy read so I won’t repeat anything here other than to say the change I propose is a radical one that localises political decision making and localises the delivery of services. It would also involve local people and the intention is to try and cure the Argyll & Bute malaise. My brief report can be downloaded at:

waste, structure and budget

How Argyll & Bute Works: Dunoon’s Historic Pier

It’s often said that Dunoon has a very run down appearance and the state of Dunoon Pier is often cited as an example of this. On Saturday I happened to meet Brian Wilson and his son in The Argyll Hotel and we had a brief chat about things. Brian hadn’t been back in Dunoon for a while and he said he thought the place looked “grim”. He mentioned the pier, the lodge house in the Castle Gardens, the Queen’s Hall and the empty shops, much as anyone might do.

Some months ago a small group of people in the town wanted to form an organisation to do something about the pier and bring it back into some kind of productive use. They felt that their views were not being taken into account so after discussion with them we agreed that we would try and get them more formally involved. They are in the process of forming a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) to be called Dunoon Community Pier Trust. Charities sometimes are able to access grant funds that the council can’t and while the council has allocated money to a first phase of works on the pier, I do not believe funds are allocated for any further development at this stage.

After discussion we agreed I would try and see if the council would form a sub committee of the area committee with members of the new Trust on this sub committee. This was a half way house between the present position and a possible future community buy out of the pier and seemed a reasonable compromise. I sought the views of some members of the area committee and they supported this proposal. I was advised, though, that only the full council could form such a sub committee so the area committee could only pass a motion requesting such a group be formed. This motion came up at the April area committee meeting and the motion was as follows:

The Bute and Cowal Area Committee wishes to work in partnership with the Dunoon Community Pier Trust to ensure that the historic Dunoon Pier is refurbished and brought back into use in a manner that reflects the community’s views on what the pier should be used for. The Bute and Cowal area committee recommends to the full council that a new subcommittee of the area committee is created for this purpose. The sub-committee will have responsibility for the refurbishment and future use of the pier and officers will report to this sub-committee. The sub-committee will in turn report to the area committee. The proposal is that the sub-committee comprises 3 elected members from the Dunoon and Cowal wards and 3 members of the board of Dunoon Community Pier Trust. The 3 elected members from these 2 wards will be determined by a decision of the area committee for Bute and Cowal. The 3 members of the SCIO board will be determined by that board. The sub-committee will elect a chair and vice chair at its first meeting if the creation of the sub-committee is agreed by the full council.

This motion was proposed by myself and seconded by Cllr Bruce Marshall. As expected, the reaction of Cllr Walsh was to submit an amendment, worded as followed:

That the Bute and Cowal Area Committee does not agree to recommend to the full Council the establishment of a sub-committee for the purposes as set down in the Notice of Motion. The Bute and Cowal Area Committee instead agrees to recommend the establishment of a partnership arrangement between the Area Committee and the Board of Dunoon Community Pier Trust supported by appropriate Council Officers. The purpose of the partnership is to consider the future use of the pier and it’s buildings and how additional funds can be generated that can be used to enhance the structure and add value to the current works proposed by the Council. The minute of the partnership meetings will be presented to the Bute and Cowal Area Committee.

The amendment would have created an informal partnership,  with the council remaining in full control. Cllr Walsh actually said in defence of his amendment that the partnership would get “periodic updates” letting it know what the council was doing about the pier. A more dismissive, top down approach would be hard to imagine. This amendment from Cllr Walsh was seconded by you know who, Cllr Jimmy McQueen.

It went to a vote and our motion won by 5 votes to 4 with Cllrs McNaughton and Scoular voting with Cllrs Walsh and McQueen. Supporting our motion were Cllrs Blair, Strong and McIntyre.

What is it about Cllr Walsh and his supporters that they seem to resent any participation by the community? They all were against the Castle Toward buy out (read here) and they were against giving a formal say to the new Trust. They are clearly the fount of all knowledge and wisdom, or so they think.

The motion agreed at the area committee will come to the June council meeting. I thought I would ask Cllr Walsh if he will support this. As usual, he dodged the question which is what he did time after time over Castle Toward. The correspondence is pasted below.

From: Breslin, Michael Sent: 20 May 2015 12:42 To: Walsh, Dick Cc: Hendry, Douglas Subject: Bute and Cowal Area Committee

Cllr Walsh, will the recommendation on setting up a sub-committee of the area committee relating to Dunoon Pier be on the agenda of the June council meeting please?

Will  you and your administration be supporting this?

Thank you

Michael Breslin

From: Walsh, Dick Sent: 20 May 2015 17:16 To: Breslin, Michael Cc: Hendry, Douglas Subject: RE: Bute and Cowal Area Committee [OFFICIAL]

Classification: OFFICIAL

I anticipate that the June Council meeting will feature this recommendation.

To: Walsh, Dick Cc: Hendry, Douglas Subject: RE: Bute and Cowal Area Committee [OFFICIAL]

Thank you. What about the 2nd part of my query?

Michael Breslin

From: Walsh, Dick Sent: 21 May 2015 12:00 To: Breslin, Michael Cc: Hendry, Douglas Subject: RE: Bute and Cowal Area Committee [OFFICIAL]

Classification: OFFICIAL

As always we will be considering our options.

From: Breslin, Michael Sent: 23 May 2015 14:45 To: Walsh, Dick Cc: Hendry, Douglas Subject: RE: Bute and Cowal Area Committee [OFFICIAL]

Classic avoidance of a reply Cllr Walsh so I think I can assume you won’t support this.

Community Land Scotland Conference, 21/22 May 15

I attended the above on behalf of South Cowal Community Development Company (SCCDC) to hear how the land reform movement was progressing through community ownership. SCCDC failed  in their bid to buy the Castle Toward estate due to the owner, Argyll & Bute Council, being unwilling to budge on the price they were demanding.

The story of Castle Toward is told earlier in this blog here. This is well worth the read if you’ve not already read it because, in the words of Dr Christopher Mason, the ownership and management of this property since the council inherited it for nothing has seen “unwavering chicanery” on the part of the council for the last 20 years.

During the long process when SCCDC tried to buy the estate, some of the views I heard from fellow councillors on community ownership were from another age altogether. A number were clearly of the view that community ownership was a bad thing and some cited the example of Gigha to demonstrate how bad community ownership could be.

Margaret McSporran, who chairs the community company that now owns the island,  spoke at the conference and what they have achieved is truly remarkable. The housing stock has been transformed and she paid tribute to a number of organisations including the council, which was good to hear. The population has almost doubled and small businesses are thriving. They started life with a very large debt related to the purchase price for the island and they have had to re-structure the debt recently but what business has not had to do that?

The conference confirmed to me that community ownership is the way forward and we should be encouraging this as a council. After all, the council is only the guardian of the property; it’s us, the people of Argyll & Bute, who own it ultimately. Here are some highlights from the conference from what was said on Twitter during the event. The first tweet refers to Aileen McLeod MSP, the minister responsible for the legislation going through the Scottish Parliament at the moment, some of which was specifically amended to ensure another buy out would not end the way the Castle Toward one did.

HOW ARGYLL & BUTE WORKS: THE BUDGET: NOW MSP ASKS QUESTIONS

I have been in Inverness the last 2 days at the Community Land Scotland conference, of which more later this weekend. For now, back to the scandal of Cllr Walsh’s undemocratic activities in concealing from the public and most councillors what is being discussed.

Michael Russell MSP has tabled the following questions in the Scottish Parliament. I will publish the replies when they appear.

S4W-25688 Michael Russell: To ask the Scottish Government what redress is available to a councillor who is refused access to papers regarding the local authority’s budget and the development of financial plans.

S4W-25689 Michael Russell: To ask the Scottish Government whether the power of general competence available to a local authority allows it to establish committees that (a) take no minutes, (b) do not permit their papers to be distributed to councillors who are not members of the committee, (c) forbid councillors who are not members of the committee to attend and (d) meet in private and exclude the public at all times.

S4W-25690 Michael Russell: To ask the Scottish Government whether it considers that the establishment of a local authority committee that (a) met in private and excluded the public at all times, (b) took no minutes, (c) refused councillors who are not members of the committee access to its papers, (d) refused councillors who are not members of the committee to attend and (e) gave no indication of the means by which its recommendations would be published or issued for final decision by the local authority would be consistent with best practice in local authorities in the development of budgets and financial plans.

More of Argyll & Bute and how it works, or not.

I regret the fact that this blog seems in many ways to be one that is having a go at Cllr Walsh but the reality is that much of what goes on in Argyll & Bute revolves around his way of operating. That way of operating seems designed to ensure that he has maximum power and control, to nobody’s surprise. This appears to have been the way things have worked in Argyll & Bute for many years as far as I can see so let me illustrate some of the things I mean.

On a number of occasions he has found a way to bypass at least 4 elected members, myself and Cllrs McIntyre, Dance and Marshall. There is a generally accepted ratio of administration councillors to opposition councillors when appointments are made to committees etc but by passing the 4 of us, Cllr Walsh disenfranchises 4 councillors and he is aided and abetted in this by the SNP Group accepting this unfair ratio. The SNP Group is therefore helping Cllr Walsh whether they know it or not. But they should know, and they ought not to do it.

Have a look at the correspondence below as but one example:

From: Breslin, Michael Sent: 14 May 2015 12:19 To: Walsh, Dick Cc: Hendry, Douglas; Macintyre, Neil; Dance, Vivien; Marshall, Bruce Subject: Ratio of administration to opposition

Cllr Walsh, can you explain to us please why you have an 8:4 ratio for, say, the project board we’ve been in correspondence over and why all 4 opposition places were offered to the SNP Group? The ratio is correct but the way it’s been used is not.

There are 13 members in the opposition, ie myself, Bruce, Vivien and Neil plus the 9 SNP members but with the 4 places being offered to the SNP Group the 4 of us have effectively been cut out of things, no doubt by accident. I know that 3 of the 4 have never been taken into account so I assume Neil is in the same position.

Thank you

Michael Breslin

No reply from Cllr Walsh so a reminder is sent on 20 May:

From: Breslin, Michael Sent: 20 May 2015 12:35 To: Walsh, Dick Cc: Hendry, Douglas; Macintyre, Neil; Dance, Vivien; Marshall, Bruce Subject: RE: Ratio of administration to opposition

Can you reply to this please Cllr Walsh?

Thank you

Michael Breslin

He replies on 20 May as follows:

From: Walsh, Dick Sent: 20 May 2015 17:14 To: Breslin, Michael Cc: Hendry, Douglas Subject: RE: Ratio of administration to opposition [OFFICIAL]

Classification: OFFICIAL

The minute of the Policy and Resources Committee and the public record is clear in terms of the democratic decision that was taken. You now acknowledge that the ratio of 8: 4 is correct. The membership of the Project Board represents 90% the membership of the Council.

I reply as follows:

That isn’t right or proper Cllr Walsh.

I need the monitoring officer’s views please Douglas.

Thank you

 Michael Breslin

I think it’s fair to say that I cannot be bothered with all of this. I would rather be working for the people of the area but on the other hand why should he get away with his way of working when it’s so blatantly undemocratic?

More soon.

How Argyll & Bute works: the community fights back

Last night over 40 people attended a hastily convened meeting to discuss the shenanigans going on in the council over the way they are handling the impending budget crisis for Argyll & Bute.

The cuts from the Tories will be passed on to the Scottish Government in due course and perhaps as much as £37m will be cut from Argyll & Bute’s budget over the next several years. The process set up by Cllr Walsh is secret and doesn’t publish papers or minutes. There was a good exchange of views last night and it was agreed an open letter would be sent to Cllr Walsh today. That letter is pasted below.

This is an open letter which will be published on the web and has been copied to the Dunoon Observer and Oban Times.

Cllr Walsh, there was a public meeting attended by over 40 people yesterday evening in Dunoon.

This was held  to discuss the budget issues the council faces and the secret manner in which the Service Choices project board operates where there are no papers to councillors not on the project board and no minutes. You as chair have also insisted on anything being discussed by this group stays secret within the group.

There was a unanimous view last night that the whole Service Choices process should be conducted in public. The view was clear: the process has to be brought into the full council process of published papers, minutes being issued and meetings open to the public. Your administration’s secret and undemocratic process needs to stop.

Will you agree to this please Cllr Walsh?

Thank you

Michael Breslin

Independent Councillor, Ward 7 Dunoon