How Argyll & Bute Works: September 15 Council Meeting

Last Thursday was the day of the full council meeting in Argyll & Bute.

The new Reform Group (see here) comprising myself, Vivien Dance and Bruce Marshall, shared thoughts on some of the papers prior to the meetings and prepared motions for some of these. One of the reasons we created the group was because we were effectively marginalised within the council. On one hand Cllr Walsh had set out to keep the 3 of us out of anything remotely important but this was compounded by the actions (or inactions) of the SNP Group.

An example is the Service Choices Project Board, see here, with 12 elected members on it. Cllr Walsh correctly said that his administration was due a pro rata share of members, in this case 8. He then offers the 4 places to the leader of the SNP Group, Sandy Taylor. Sandy knows that there are 4 other councillors not in the administration, ie the 3 above plus Neil McIntyre from Oban. However, he takes the 4 places offered without approaching any of the 4 other councillors. This means the SNP Group has more than their pro rata share of places. He should have taken 3 places and offered 1 to the other 4. Whether or not we took them is beside the point; he should have offered.

The SNP Group has also ignored the possibility of a wider opposition group by asking the 4 of us if we wanted to consider this. In fact, the reverse has applied because I have spoken to a number of members of the SNP Group suggesting this on more than one occasion. Nothing came of this I regret to say.

I am trying here to state the facts and not make judgement on the SNP Group. They are entitled to adopt the position they have done but the question is this: is this wise? Personally I am more than willing to consider some wider grouping, especially if the SNP Group was willing to adopt the principles of the Reform Group Alliance, see here. But they don’t have to adopt these principles: we could still work together on a number of issues, especially the forthcoming budget. As things stand, that seems unlikely because they have continued to be part of Cllr Walsh’s secret society, the project board. See here for details.

Going back to last Thursday’s council meeting, our Reform Group got no support at all from any of the SNP Group present. If anything, they criticised some of what we said, especially the most vocal of them Cllr James Robb. He appeared, on the day, to be the de facto group leader when in fact it’s Sandy Taylor. Again, in order to avoid making any direct criticism of the SNP, I simply reproduce here extracts from the minutes of last week’s meeting. Suffice to say that our Reform Group is hugely disappointed, especially on the issue of the refugees. Note also Cllr McNaughton dodging the vote on the disappearance of the Cowal Ward In the final extract below.

The full minute can be found here: Printed minutes Thursday 24-Sep-2015 10.00 Argyll and Bute Council

Extract 1

PERFORMANCE REVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE – APPOINTMENT OF VICE-CHAIR

The Council considered a recommendation from the Performance Review and Scrutiny Committee to amend the constitution and to create a position of Vice – Chair for the Committee.

Motion

To agree to amend the constitution and to nominate Councillor Taylor to be the Vice-Chair of the PRS Committee.

Moved by Councillor Walsh, seconded by Councillor E Morton.

Amendment

The position should be openly advertised and a suitable independent person be appointed to this position. The costs can be mitigated by replacing one Member on the Committee with the new appointee.

Moved by Councillor Breslin, seconded by Councillor Dance.

Decision

On a show of hands vote the Motion was carried by 28 votes to 3 and became the finding of the meeting.

Extract 2

SYRIAN REFUGEE CRISIS

The Council considered a report which advised that Argyll and Bute Council, its community planning partners and local communities had indicated a willingness to support the resettlement of the Syrian refugees whose plight has dominated the media over the past few weeks. The Council has indicated to the Scottish Government and CoSLA that the partnership will offer housing and support to 20 refugees families in the first instance with the possibility of more in the future.

Motion

That the council amends the decision to offer housing and support to 20 families. There are significant numbers of empty homes owned by Registered Social Landlords in Argyll & Bute. There are also empty properties owned by the MOD although we recognise and endorse the need for secure tenancies. These empty properties amount to something in the region of 300 to 400 units. Given the population decline in parts of A&B this motion proposes that we offer to take as many refugee families as we have empty homes for, working with the RSLs and the MOD as appropriate and taking into account the views of relevant communities and the refugees.

Moved by Councillor Breslin, seconded by Councillor Marshall.

Amendment

To accept the recommendation in the report and to endorse the decision to set up a Refugee Resettlement Group and through this to progress our work to resettle families initially with 20 families but also to progress our desire to accommodate greater numbers in the future.

Moved by Councillor Walsh, seconded by Councillor E Morton.

Decision

On a show of hands vote the Amendment was carried by 28 votes to 3 and became the finding of the meeting.

Extract 3

NOTICE OF MOTION UNDER STANDING ORDER 13

Councillor Marshall, seconded by Councillor Breslin had given notice of the following Motion:-

Motion

The current consultation on ward changes within Argyll & Bute proposes, among other changes, the disappearance of the Cowal ward and the extension of an island ward, Bute, into mainland Cowal. The proposals as they stand make no sense to local communities and there is genuine anger and bewilderment in Cowal in particular. This motion urges the Scottish Boundary Commission to recognise the unique place of Bute and Cowal, to use its powers to recognise special geographic circumstances and to preserve the status quo in both Bute and Cowal. This might best be done by creating a new category of voter/councillor ratio which lies somewhere between the current one and that used for the Western Isles.

Moved by Councillor Marshall, seconded by Councillor Breslin.

Amendment

That the Council notes the terms of the motion lodged under Standing Order 13 at agenda item 17 on the Council agenda and the supplied advice regarding the concerns being expressed by the people in Cowal. The Council further notes the concerns and anxieties being expressed from a number of communities within Argyll and Bute with regard to the likely impact on them from the Local Government Boundary Commission (LGBC) proposals.

That the Council restates its formal objection and strong opposition to the LGBC proposals for the Argyll and Bute area on the basis that the Council is not assured that their proposals will best serve the communities of Argyll and Bute as they do not adequately address natural community links, representation in the Islands, or the rurality and sparsity issues faced by our area.

The Council calls on the LGBC to conclude that for the Argyll and Bute Electoral arrangements that the status quo in terms of member numbers and ward boundaries can and should be maintained.

Moved by Councillor Walsh, seconded by Councillor E Morton.

Councillors Freeman and McNaughton left the Meeting at this point.

The requisite number of Members required the vote to be taken by calling the roll and Members voted as follows:-

Motion

Councillor Mike Breslin

Councillor Vivien Dance

Councillor Bruce Marshall

Amendment

Councillor John Armour

Councillor Gordon Blair

Councillor Rory Colville

Councillor Maurice Corry

Councillor Robin Currie

Councillor Mary-Jean Devon

Councillor George Freeman

Councillor Anne Horn

Councillor Donald Kelly

Councillor David Kinniburgh

Councillor Roddy McCuish

Councillor Alistair MacDougall

Councillor Duncan MacIntyre

Councillor Neil MacIntyre

Councillor Robert E Macintyre

Councillor Robert G MacIntyre

Councillor Donald MacMillan

Councillor Jimmy McQueen

Councillor Aileen Morton

Councillor Ellen Morton

Councillor Gary Mulvaney

Councillor James Robb

Councillor Elaine Robertson

Councillor Len Scoullar

Councillor Isobel Strong

Councillor Sandy Taylor

Councillor Richard Trail

Councillor Dick Walsh

Decision

The Amendment was carried by 28 votes to 3 and became the finding 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.