How Argyll & Bute Works: Bad behaviour !

At last week’s Policy and Resources Committee meeting there was a paper that purported to be a response to the last Audit Scotland report. This report contained the following gems:

There has been a general improvement in member behaviour and fewer issues are being raised/dealt with by Officers.

There are still ongoing issues with one or two members potentially leaking information and work is ongoing to obtain evidence in support of this. Where this is possible, referrals will be made to the standards commission.

Political groupings have been reformed and signed up to a statement of intent, which has provided stability and a clear understanding of expected behaviours.

There has been a general improvement in member behaviour and fewer issues are being raised/dealt with by Officers.

Protocol in place and the role of the Monitoring Officer has been reaffirmed, which has contributed to the overall improvement in member behaviour. Firmer action has been taken in respect of member behaviours, which has resulted in referrals to the Standards Commission.

Can you imagine a situation where civil servants wrote something like this about MSPs or MPs? I don’t think so but this is what officers in Argyll & Bute write about councillors. Michael Russell issued a press release about this which is pasted below. I can’t say any more or they will accuse me of criticising officers in public and that would lead to another complaint.

Commenting on a report to the Policy & Resources Committee of Argyll & Bute Council yesterday regarding progress in responding to a damning assessment of the Council by Audit Scotland last year, Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

“Even in the Alice in Wonderland world of Argyll & Bute Council this document is extraordinary.   I heard it reported on the BBC lunchtime news as I was driving through North Argyll and nearly came off the road.

In the document, which can be found at [http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s101238/Copy%20of%20App%201%20-%20Audit%20Scotland%20Action%20Plan%20-%20review%20update%20for%20PR%20200815.pdf] unelected officials report on “firmer action” taken against democratically elected members including reference to the Standards Commission . They also comment on what they call improvements in “member behaviour” and make threats to members regarding leaks to local media – the same local media , of course, that has complained about exactly that type of bullying approach by the council.

The language of the document is reminiscent of an   old fashioned school report about a disruptive class.   The tone and content would never by entertained in another authority but in Argyll & Bute the officials seem to be beyond criticism.

It is well known in Argyll that one of these references to the Standards Commission made by officials of the council is about Cowal Councillor Michael Breslin.

In reality Cllr Breslin is a hard working, principled public representative whose only crime has been to stand up for the people who elected him.   His actions in supporting the community buyout of Castle Toward have occurred the wrath of the Council Leader and the Council senior staff as has his constant questioning of the payment of care workers and his disquiet about the actions of the Council in a long running dispute at Rothesay Harbour.

He is already the subject of a complaint to the Standards Commission by the Council Leader, Deputy Leader and Provost.   The subsequent reference from the Council’s senior management team is , as I described it at the time, “ unwelcome , unwise, unjustified and unacceptable” and was publicly condemned by a number of Argyll & Bute councillors when news of it became public.   4 MSPs, an MP and 7 other Argyll & Bute Councillors signed a letter to the Standards Commissioner protesting about this treatment of Cllr Breslin.

Yet not only has the Council not learnt from this, they are adding insult to injury by claiming that such a reference is necessary to fulfil the requirements of Audit Scotland.   That is complete nonsense and they should not be permitted to get away with it.

Local people will be outraged by this report , particularly those in wards where good Councillors are being targeted because they are prepared to speak up for voters.

Audit Scotland should also be concerned about the way in which they are being used to justify what is a perversion of democracy. “

And there is one more gem in the report which, as readers of this blog will know, just isn’t true:

All elected members have access to all committee papers.

How Argyll & Bute Works: Castle Toward again

With the publication of the papers for this week’s meeting of the council’s scrutiny committee, a supplementary paper appeared late on Friday written by Ian Ross, chair of the scrutiny committee.

His paper can be read at this link:

SUPPLEMENTARY PACK 1 FOR PERFORMANCE REVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE Thursday 27-Aug-2015 10 00 Per

It is highly critical of the way certain material was made available to councillors, something I have had concerns about since the start of the now failed community buyout. I can’t say much more or the thought police will bring another complaint about me to the ethics and standards commissioner but you can come to your own conclusions.

Michael Russell has a piece on today’s National on this and this can be read at the link below.

Revealed: how a community in Argyll was denied the chance to buy a local treasure

There will be more on this in due course, possibly after the scrutiny committee meeting on Thursday.

Boundary Commission Proposals

The Boundaries Commission has produced proposals that, among other things, will see the demise of the Cowal ward that currently has 3 councillors. The reality is that the population fall in Argyll & Bute is particularly problematic in Bute and Cowal and the Boundaries Commission have to ensure there is an appropriate number of councillors for the voting population. However, the proposals are absurd because west  Cowal will become part of Bute, the Dunoon ward will extend northwards to include Sandbank and all of the rest will become part of Lomond North ward.

The council response to this was to set up a working group and the response submitted was weak and ineffective. Given that the proposals affect Bute and Cowal so severely, you might have thought the council leader would have wanted all the Bute and Cowal councillors on his working group but not Dick Walsh. The last people he would have on any group or committee are myself and Bruce Marshall so we were again ignored.

The falling population, though, is a sign of a failing area and while the council is not solely to blame, Walsh blames everyone else but the council he has led for so long. Under his so called leadership precious little goes right and plenty goes wrong. The council is neither business friendly nor people friendly and things are allowed to happen that are against the best interests of the area. Walsh has been in charge for so long he personally has to take responsibility but he won’t, of course.

Michael Russell submitted a motion to the parliament about the proposals and this is pasted below. I think his motion was fine and I fully support it but it enraged Walsh. Walsh accused Michael of “dishonesty” in an email to South Cowal Community Council and then wrote to all the Cowal and Bute community councils.

Michael Russell’s Motion:

That the Parliament notes the changes to local government wards in Argyll and Bute that have been proposed by the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland in its 5th review; is concerned that Argyll and Bute Council has failed to fully consult its members regarding these changes, including members in wards adversely affected by them; regrets that the council’s current administration has apparently not offered any significant opposition to these changes; understands that the reason for these changes, which include the only loss of a full ward in Scotland, lie in the greatest part in the failure of the council to tackle effectively the depopulation of the area; urges communities affected to submit their views to the Local Government Boundary Commission before 22 October 2015; is particularly concerned at the loss of a ward in Cowal, the loss of three councillors from the current total of 36 in Argyll and Bute, the inclusion of parts of Cowal in the Lomond ward contrary to patterns of local communication, settlement and transportation, the inclusion of parts of Cowal in the Bute ward contrary to patterns of local communication, settlement and transportation, the change to ward boundaries in mid-Argyll contrary to patterns of local communication, settlement and transportation and what it considers the unnecessary focus on the boundaries of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, and calls on the commission to take more note in its recommendations of the desire by communities, particularly in rural areas, for geographical and community identity and solidarity rather than continue to emphasise parity in electoral numbers.

Walsh’s letter to community councils is in the link below and the 2nd link is Michael Russell’s reply. Walsh is clearly rattled but he would be better recognising that he is a serial failure as is his leadership of this council.

D Walsh letter to community councils     M Russell’s reply

Update 14 August

Innellan books

I wrote a piece about the 1914-1919 war and the talk by the wonderful Margaret Hubbard. To read it, click here. I should have said that she’s written several books about Innellan and these are available in the Lido Innellan or the Dunoon Observer shop in Dunoon. Well worth reading, front covers pictured above of 2 of them.

I also wrote a piece about land reform, see here. Community Land Scotland has now given its response to the Scottish Government. The summary of their response is provided below. If you want to read the full response, click on the link below.

RACCE Committee – Evidence from Community Land Scotland on Land Reform (Scotland) Bill 2015 – As submitted

High Level Summary

CLS supports –

  • the general principles of the Bill
  • the need for the Scottish Government to publish a Statement of Land Rights and Responsibilities
  • the creation of a Land Commission to make land reform a continuous process of change
  • greater measures to make who owns Scotland more transparent
  • the additional Community Right to Buy to further sustainable development
  • the provision for community body nomination of a `third party’ to own land
  • the re-introduction of `sporting rates’
  • new powers to SNH to have deer numbers and impacts managed more effectively
  • improved rights for tenant farmers

 

The Bill needs to be stronger by –

  • requiring Ministers to have regard to the progressive realisation of human rights, and the delivery of greater diversity in land ownership in making the Statement
  • toughening up the requirements for information from proprietors on who owns and benefits from ownership of Scotland’s land, by requiring certain information to be disclosed
  • giving further powers to Scottish Ministers to intervene in land ownership, in the public interest, to further sustainable development, and support the creation of new settlements
  • toughening up the requirement for land owners to engage with communities, and to include seeking the consent to local land management decisions

Innellan War Memorial and the 1914-1919 War

My wife Phil and I went on one of the guided walks last night which our local historian Margaret Hubbard organises. Margaret is a professional tour guide but she does these walks for no fee with the modest £5 per head going to Innellan Village Hall’s funds.

innellan war memorial

Last night we met at the war memorial in Innellan to hear Margaret’s summary of why the First World Ward started and to tell us something of the names of the people on the war memorial. She focussed on a number of these then we walked south along the shore road, up Wyndham Road, along the high road then down past the Royal Bar back to the war memorial. We stopped several times along the route to see where some of the people killed lived, the effects on their families and the pretty devastating effects on the local community at the time. Margaret spoke of the children who played together at the opening of Innellan Village Hall in 1902 then of their deaths in various parts of the world that was torn apart by war.

Margaret spoke of the letters and telegraphs coming to the Post Office in Innellan telling local people their children and spouses had died. Initially the children used to take these from the Port Office to the homes but when the effects of these became clear, the Minister used to take them instead.

group at start of the walk

The 2 hours we spent was just terrific and much of this was down to Margaret and her thorough research on the topic, some done locally and other parts carried out in a number of war grave sites including one in Namibia. The only downside to the evening were the midges of course. For me the talk was summed up by the attitudes of bereaved parents. Harry Lauder’s son John is named on the memorial above and he was killed, possibly by his own men who hated him and his manner. But who knows. His father, Harry, encouraged people to join the war effort in order to avenge the death of his son. This encouragement was a key feature of his performances for the duration of the war.

In contrast, Rudyard Kipling’s son was also killed and Kipling took a completely different tack afterwards. He became very anti war and said so on many occasions. Margaret Hubbard reminded us of what Kipling said should have been on the tombstones:

If any ask why we died, tell them that our fathers lied.

I hope Margaret Hubbard does more of these walks next year. If you get a chance, don’t miss them.

Land Reform

There are still people around who think that land reform is a topic for lefties whose only interest is having a go at those with land out of jealousy. This is far from the case. Land reform is about bringing Scotland into the 21st century and it’s about realising the embedded value in land by spreading ownership to as many people as possible. First and foremost land reform is about economic development for the benefit of this country and its people.

Scotland has one of the most concentrated patterns of land ownership in the world. Not only that, it’s very hard to ascertain who actually owns a lot of the land, with companies in tax havens owning large chunks with the real owners hidden behind these companies.

There is a good summary of the current proposals on the BBC website at this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-33226303

The legislation will be put before the Scottish Parliament after the summer recess and there will be many who take the view it doesn’t go far enough and others who think it goes far too far. There will be pressure on all MSPs from both sides of the debate, that is certain, and especially from those who think their interests are endangered.

Let’s remember that the appalling manner in which the Castle Toward buyout was handled by the council demonstrates that it’s not just private landowners who don’t operate in the best interests of the local community. My view is that we badly need pretty radical land reform if we’re to see improvements for the benefit of Scotland and I don’t think the current proposals are radical enough but they are a start.

It’s well worth reading Andy Wightman’s books on the Scottish land issue. I have just finished reading The Poor Had No Lawyers: Who Owns Scotland and can commend it to you. Have a look at his website at: http://www.andywightman.com/

I am a member of Community Land Scotland and their web site has a lot of useful information at : http://www.communitylandscotland.org.uk/

The Forward organisation in Dunoon has asked Andy Wightman to speak here. This will be on Tuesday 8 September at 1930 in The Braes, Dunoon. This is a free event so come along and hear Andy’s views. Download the poster at the link below and spread the word please.  Who Owns Scotland

The supporters of Castle Toward will be taking part in a campaign which will run while the land reform bill goes through parliament. There is more information on this at this link: Our Land Info Pack w cover

castle toward supporters