Today’s (14th January 2011) Scotsman reveals another example of Argyll and Bute Council asleep on watch.
Its trade union, COSLA, the body representing all of Scotland’s local authorities, agreed with the Scottish Government that the Isle of Seil was not an island because of the Clachan Bridge.
That little agreement meant that Argyll lost £400,000 from its annual revenue grant under the part of it known as SINA – Special Island Needs Allowance.
The Scottish Government has confirmed that: ‘Amendments to the Special Islands Needs Allowance were discussed and agreed by local government and Scottish Government officials, and agreed with Cosla’.
This confirmation closes an escape hatch for Argyll and Bute Council, which claims to have known nothing of the redesignation of Seil or of its impact on Argyll’s SINA grant. The Government statement clearly indicates that local government was involved in discussions on this matter and had agreed to the outcomes – independent of COSLA’s agreement with the Government.
The costly surprises
The Scotsman article has the Council saying it came as a surprise to them. No surprise there for Argyll.
Argyll and Bute Council has regularly claimed to have been surprised of late:
- it was surprised to discover how their annual revenue grant was actually calculated (the GAE mechanism)
- it was surprised to discover that COSLA’s changes to GAE (which they agreed) meant that Argyll and Bute lost another £5.6 million this year
- it was surprised to discover that this was what they’d approved themselves at a COSLA meeting on 19th November 2010
- now it’s surprised that COSLA agreed that the Isle of Seil, with its Bridge over the Clachan Sound built at the end of the 1700s, is no longer an island, with the loss of £400,000 per annum.
- presumably it is also surprised that it agreed the change to SINA independently of COSLA?
The big issue is the lack of awareness, the lack of contact with what is going on. Argyll is like the former HMS Invincible, a hulking carrier now stripped of its engines waiting to be towed off for scrap.
The COSLA issue
The next issue is COSLA. It is not COSLA’s business to be making agreements with the Government on the locally sovereign affairs of a member authority and – allegedly – without that authority’s awareness and agreement.
Like the organisation of local government, COSLA has also outlived its usefulness and is fit for no purpose other than protecting its own territorial interests.
COSLA has now being directly instrumental in two initiatives – that we know about – both hard to defend in logic and both negatively affecting the finances of Argyll:
- the bizarre reintroduction to this year’s calculations of grants removed in 2007 (although their total revenue remained available) known as Supporting People. This cost Argyll £5.6 million.
- the agreement we now know about, that the Isle of Seil is not an island. This has cost £400.000.
The total cost of COSLA to Argyll this year has been £6 million.
Argyll must have a competent administration that is respected by its peers and that stays awake on the tiller.
Scotland must engage with the need for local government reform – and with the replacement of the cost-heavy COSLA (COSTLA?) with something much more simple and much more democratic.