There are potentially huge cuts coming the way of Argyll & Bute Council, partly due to the continuing austerity planned by the Tories and Lib Dems and partly because the population of Argyll & Bute is continuing to fall. This decline in population directly affects the share of the declining pot of money councils get.
Instead of involving all 36 councillors in this process, the council leader Dick Walsh put the initial budget proposals for the next 2 years to the Policy and Resources Committee of the council, a committee it would be fair to say he controls. I attended this meeting, as is my right, even though I am not on this committee. While I was allowed to speak Cllr Walsh declined my request to vote. I was therefore not able to directly influence this budget process which has been named Service Choices.
At the Policy and Resources Committee meeting on 2 April they agreed to set up what they called a project board comprising 12 councillors and 2 trade union officials. 8 of the councillors are in Cllr Walsh’s administration and 4 are from the SNP Group. It would also be fair to say this board is controlled by Cllr Walsh. Apart from the SNP Group, there are 4 other councillors not in the administration: myself and Cllrs Dance, Marshall and Neil McIntyre. As far as I know none of us was asked if we wanted to be considered as members of this project board so that effectively means the 4 of us have been totally cut out of the process.
I had been making some enquiries about the budget from the officers and in the course of this discovered by chance that the first meeting of this project board was to be held last Tuesday, 28 April. This was the first I knew of this and it occurred to me that the normal rules about the way meetings are called had not been adhered to. The normal way is for papers to be issued electronically a week before the meeting but this hadn’t happened. Now, a week later, the usual minutes have not been issued either.
In between times myself and Cllr Dance asked some questions of the chief executive, none of which have been replied to as of this morning, 6 May. It is astonishing stuff and totally undemocratic. Read the correspondence on this at the link below. More to follow no doubt.
UPDATE AT 1700 6 MAY 2015
The link below is the reply from Sally Loudon and my reply to her. The mystery deepens about the legal status of the Service Choices Project Board and how elected members get to know anything about what the board is doing, what papers are available to elected members and so forth.
UPDATE 7 MAY 2015
Having read again the reply from the chief executive, I need to make the following observations. It appears to me that the project board has no status within the council structure because the council’s constitution makes no reference to such a body. The 2nd paragraph of Sally Loudon’s reply seems to confirm this yet she says the Policy & Resources Committee was “competent” in creating this project board. The fact is that the project board, whatever its legal status, is operating outwith all the normal rules for any other council meetings. It is, therefore, operating in secret with no other elected members having access to the papers nor does it produce minutes.
Is this really what democracy in Scotland has come to?