How Argyll & Bute Works: The Budget Secrecy

I have written several times before about the group that Cllr Walsh created to consider what could be the largest ever cuts to council services. I understand at the moment that we’re looking at losing about £9m from the budget in each of the next 2 years.

The group Cllr Walsh formed is called a project board. The budget cuts process is called Service Choices. There are 8 administration councillors on this project board including Walsh as chair. There are also 4 SNP Group members on the project board. I have been assured that such a group is legitimate BUT:

  • It does not have to follow council standing orders, ie it operates outwith the council’s normal rules.
  • The papers are only sent to the 12 councillors on the project board and the rest of us never see them.
  • There are no minutes taken as far as I know but if there are then these are not published.
  • There is an agreement among the 12 that anything said in their meetings is not circulated any wider. (Other councillors don’t even know the dates the group meets!)

The best we get are seminars with little by way of detail on what is proposed. As I have said before, there is a need for some confidentiality around this because every budget cut option has potential job implications and in some smaller departments it may be possible to identify people who could lose their jobs. Nonetheless, there is no need at all for the overly secretive manner in which this group operates.

I have had it confirmed by the council’s monitoring officer that this group is not a committee or sub-committee of the council. His exact words are shown below. Despite this, councillors attending these meetings can claim travel and subsistence costs even though it’s not a council committee. I find this bizarre.

Update late on 28 September. It might be worth reading an earlier post of mine to see how an alternative budget might look. Have a look at this from late May this year.

Finally in respect of your point about the Project Board, I would confirm that the Project Board is not a committee or sub-committee of the Council. 

Author: Michael Breslin

I am no longer a councillor with Argyll & Bute Council but given the appalling treatment I got from the senior officers and a few elected members, I plan to continue keeping an eye on what the council is doing.

5 thoughts on “How Argyll & Bute Works: The Budget Secrecy”

  1. So, huge decisions regarding future budget cuts of £18 million over two years is to be decided by 33% (12) of A&BC councillors. The remaining 24 will be referred to as “mushrooms” kept in the dark and fed on ****.
    The Councillors must be entitled to and be made aware as to what actions, decision the Project Board are planning. Each councillor is, I presume, entrusted by virtue of having been elected, to receive information that could affect his or her Ward?

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    1. There will come a point when all councillors will know the proposals and a point when they will vote on them. However it might be too late then to be able to produce a costed alternative to what this secretive group proposes. And that might well be the game being played.

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  2. I recognise the need for confidentiality and the relevance of a small, special group considering what “service choices” might be submitted for approval by the full Council. However, I fail to understand why the majority of councillors have apparently not been brought into the process and their views and suggestions sought. Clearly, the Council runs the risk of having its proposals rejected and again being accused of shambolic behaviour.

    As regards the view of the Council’s “monitoring officer” (Is this someone from Audit Scotland?) that the “Project Board” is neither a committee nor sub-committee of the Council and on behalf of all tax payers in Argyll and Bute, perhaps he/she could be asked to confirm on what basis travel expenses, etc are payable for attendance at Board meetings.

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    1. Iain, the reality is that Cllr Walsh likes to have it all his own way. That has always been the way he has worked I am told. He chairs the policy and resources committee which will be the first time a wider audience of councillors gets to see the proposals from the secret cabal. This should be a week on Thursday.

      He has a majority in his administration and given that the SNP Group has cooperated in the Service Choices project board (against much advice) they are unlikely to vote against what is proposed in either P&R or the full council.

      The monitoring officer is Douglas Hendry He maintains it is perfectly proper to pay travel costs even though it is not a committee or sub-committee of the council. I have tried!

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