Coup two? So who governs Argyll? Russell asks Council CEO for cessation of action on Struan Lodge closure

This morning we revealed the existence of a threatened wrecking party in the SNP group leading the coalition administration of Argyll and Bute Council.

We said that in our view, the game of Russian roulette that Councillor Michael Breslin was playing to attempt to force a reopening of the decision by the full council to close the Struan Lodge care home in Dunoon, could only have been put into action with the knowledge and consent, and possilby the approval, of his political senior, local MSP, Michael Russell.

Mr Russell is known to be panicking badly at the possible impact on his own political career of the Struan Lodge decision – being in the voting area of his own home ward.

The MSP has now emailed all councillors in the coalition administration to let them know that he has  chosen to ask the CEO of Argyll and Bute Council that no further action should be taken on the matter of the closure of Struan Lodge.

This is an astonishingly desperate action which is constitutionally bizarre. Mr Russell has no different a position in relation to a council Chief Executive – or to any other officer – than does any other resident of the area. We would expect a CEO to pay as much or as little regard to such an approach as to one from any of the rest of us.

We do not yet know what the Council CEO’s position on this intervention can possibly be – and the language in which it has been expressed would be interesting to see.

As we published earlier, Councillor Breslin saw fit yesterday [24th February] to issue new Council Leader, James Robb, with an ultimatum: answer his two questions by 17.00 today – or face ‘very problematic’ consequences.

It is hardly a coincidence with this known timetable in place, that Michael Russell chose to visit Struan Lodge this morning and then immediately to issue this email announcing his thoughts and the action he has taken to the administration councillors – along with a press release.

It would be far too much of a coincidence for this not to be part of the fabric of conspiracy, with Mr Russell’s role now openly played. It must be noted that before he has had any response from the recipients of this email, Mr Russell, an assiduous self-publicist, has issued a press release on his actions as the champion of the people.

Mr Russell’s email says:

‘Dear Colleague,

‘I am taking the unusual step of writing to all members of the Administration in the light of my visit to Struan Lodge at lunch time today.

‘I am of the opinion that the Council is in a very difficult situation over the matter of the continuation of the facility in Dunoon because a convincing case for closure has not been made to the local community.  There is a strong feeling in the area that an alternative model of provision could be devised which would allow Struan Lodge to remain open and that the Council should be helping to develop that model.

‘I agree with that perspective and I have discussed it with a number of councillors, including the Council Leader and the Lead Councillor for Social Work.  I have now written to them and to the Council Chief Executive [Ed: our emphasis] requesting no further action on any possible closure and the active involvement of the Council in helping to provide a constructive solution under a different business model and/or ownership.  I believe that the Council motion as passed on the 14th February would allow that to happen as it is not tied to any particular timescale.

‘I have given the attached statement to the local press today and of course I would be happy to discuss it with any member.

‘I do hope we can find a way forward on this difficult matter and of course my support for the Administration and the work it is doing remains undiminished.’

The Russell press statement

‘This is the second time I have visited Struan Lodge in recent weeks and I do so today to offer my full support to staff, residents and families in their fight to continue to deliver the wonderful service that exists here.

‘The Council is under a great deal of financial pressure, in part because of the cuts coming from the Liberal / Tory Government at Westminster and in part because of the poor financial decisions of the previous administration.    Difficult decisions have been necessary but one of this magnitude requires to be taken with the consent and understanding of the community and explained carefully to them. That has not happened and now the community sees it as being an imposition in the teeth of united opposition.

‘The Council needs to work with the community to find a way forward that keeps Struan Lodge in existence even if run by others. It is regarded as being one of the best care homes in the area and the residents – including six who are over 90 and two who are over 100 - deserve more than displacement and re-housing, some of them for a second time.

‘Finding a better way forward for them and the community will take some time and accordingly I am asking the Council today to agree to suspend any further action. I am also asking them to lift the bar on admissions, not least because it is already leading to bed blocking in the local hospital which has an in patient who cannot be moved because the Council has told Struan Lodge to help no one else.

‘Fortunately the resolution that the Council passed on the 14th of February requires another report to go to the Council before closure takes place. In addition no closure is possible before the Care Inspectorate reports on the proposal. Neither of those things should happen until every possible avenue for continuation of Struan Lodge has been examined and exhausted -  a process that is bound to take several months.

‘As a next step there should be an independent examination of the costs of running the facility and some independent consultancy, paid for by the Council, to consider alternative models of provision and alternative governance of Struan Lodge.

‘I would be happy to work with Cllrs Breslin and Blair , other local councillors, the Community Council and the wider community in Cowal in the campaign for Struan Lodge.’

The game is now in the open.

So who governs Argyll and Bute Council? If this a feudal fiefdom? It looks as if is intended to be.

Constitutionally, this level of intervention – and public intervention – could not be more serious.

Here we have an MSP attempting  – and grandstanding on it in public – to overturn the legitimate majority decision of a full council, taken with three weeks advance possession of the full budget papers – and in apparent ignorance of the fact that the agreement of a council to a proposal from its administration converts that proposal to a decision.

What has been happening in Argyll and Bute Council since this new and untried coalition administration was put together, has been unparallelled political intervention – not just with the SNP group but with the entire administration.

It has crippled a young administration at birth, giving them no time to learn to work together in their own way, creating favoured in-groups, breeding suspicions in orchestrated internal machinations  – like that going on at the moment – and which is not the first such manifestation.

Mr Russell, is now like any reckless gambler, going for broke to get his way. Councillor Breslin has himself been a major victim of the momentum of this. The damage done to his reputation looks irretrievable.

And it is Argyll and Bute Council and its battered [with a nod to young school meals blogger Martha Payne] reputation that suffers again.

And it is now five minutes to Mr Breslin’s ultimatum deadline. Was there any substance to his threats? We will see.

Note:

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22 Responses to Coup two? So who governs Argyll? Russell asks Council CEO for cessation of action on Struan Lodge closure

  1. What a load of rubbish.

    Local MSP writes to the local council about a constituency matter and this is somehow a constitutional crisis, a coup and a conspiracy all rolled into one. Is Mike Russell to ignore constituency matters then?

    There is a real story here but you are looking in the wrong direction.

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    • We’re all confused first and foremost by Cllr Breslins’ twisting and turning.
      It was always going to be the case that when the universally trusted Cllr McCuish ‘stood down’ that the SNP group would struggle. That has now been borne out.
      I can only assume that the SNP strategy (seemingly locally and nationally) is to lose the referendum next year, in order to maintain their status, as an unlikely ‘yes’ vote would render their previous authority rather diminished, due to politics in Scotland returning to the old guard.

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  2. I take it the budget,s a boggy now.What takes the hit instead of Struan Lodge and how will all adult services including the care home packages and homecare be affected as they were being severly cut already.
    Where does this leave the new council leader who spent so much time putting it together.Is Struan Lodge the only part of the budget that deserves to be spared I would think not.
    Good news for Oban,s Eader Glinn care home if this is to be SNP. Policy the residents and staff can look forward to lots of money being spent to bring it upto care commision standard in the near future.Every cloud has a silver lining.
    Cheers Neil.

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  3. What I don’t understand is that Breslin chose to abstain. How can he now claim that it should remain open? What sort of understanding of responsibility does the man have?

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  4. Fair’s fair – ‘give and take’ works two ways, and surely if our MSP can tell our council chief executive what to do, our councillors should be free to tell the government chief executive what to do.
    I’d like to see the government told to stop their nonsense and ensure full and fair transfer of income from road users to the council so that our council roads can be properly maintained.

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  5. Mike Russell is MSP for the area in question, yes? Therefore he has a right to intervene on behalf of his constituents. Quite simple. That the ruling administration happen to be SNP is fairly immaterial.

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  6. You make a good point, Jamie. However, the budget was only agreed on 14th Feb. after 3 weeks of knowing what was proposed by the SNP and their gaggle of supporters. Two of their own kind chose to abstain from the vote about Struan and the decision to close it was, by all accounts, a democratic one.
    Now the SNP MSP wants the SNP councillors (and their supporters) to change their minds.

    The annual budget is a very serious issue and affects many, if not all, of Argyll residents. Can we now all go running off to Mike Russell and ask him to go back to the nasty SNP Councillors and make them reverse other budgetary decisions?
    I am particularly affected by the appalling state of our roads.

    Of course I realise that this is not possible, but I wonder whether it is the current administration that is completely incompetent and incapable or the MSP in question. Likely both.

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  7. Russell seems keen to intervene in council business , yet he has not said one cheep about the loss of 35% of the beds at Campbeltown Hospital down from 32 to 21 ,an area which is the responsibility of his SNP administration . The community in Kintyre is disgusted by this decision and by the silence of Russell . It is not just in Cowal that this gang have blown their electoral chances – Kintyre too .

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    • Russell has never been popular in Cowal, his electoral mandate came from other areas of Argyll and Bute.
      He has “previous” when it comes to intervening in council business, remember the school closure fiasco? I’m still to be convinced that the Snp did not have a part to play in that.
      This is typical opportunism from him, I know it’s off topic but what has he done for Dunoon and Cowal with the ferry problem?
      Facilities such as Struan Lodge should not be closing, if anything councils should be looking to bring others up to their high standards. If this means the council having to look at it’s budget again then fine. If there is a management issue then they need to look at this also.
      We have an ageing population and those with such as Dementia/Alzheimer’s will in the not to distant future need more places like Struan Lodge, not less.

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    • Islay –you keep going on about this –how many beds do you wish in Campbeltown (35, 40, 30, 32, 25 ?)–and if they are kept empty because most folk prefer to be seen at home will you pay the extra costs?
      Direct your concern to Inverness with NHS Highland and let us know how you get on.

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      • Assurances were given to local politicians that there would be no further cuts in bed numbers at Campbeltown – now they are being cut by the SNP. With the number of old people increasing and more people living alone, the very least I want in bed numbers is the status quo

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  8. In fairness to MR, he has taken an interest in Struan Lodge from fairly early on and made assurances it would not close. That is likely the reason for this, his reputation with the many who care about Struan Lodge is at serious risk.

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  9. Just back from the Oban Community Council meeting where we discussed this with SNP councillors Roddy MacCuish and Louise Glen-Lee.They both said this social enterprise had been offered to the staff at Struan Lodge two years ago and they turned it down.They said that there will not be any difference financially in the budget if the staff take up this offer.They will get help from the council.My question to them was why wasn,t this idea dealt with before the budget meeting but basically this is just a farce and they will try and doctor it up to make it look like Russell and his buddies are the saviours and the other councillors will be hung out to dry.I do feel sorry for James Robb after his comments about the alternative budget proposed by Dick Walsh this move makes him look as though he did not do his homework.
    looking forward to seeing the spin on this it will be brilliant.
    Cheers Neil.

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    • Unless the offer 2 years ago was on the basis of ‘change to a social enterprise or face closure’ then it bears no comparison; given the choice of two identical jobs, except one has a council pension attached and the other doesn’t, which would you choose? It’s not a particularly attractive proposition.

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      • Or you could think the Social Enterprise is the better option because at least the place is being run as it is intended and arguably will not be subject to the same level of budgetry uncertainty that a council-run establishment faces. And anyway who is to say a by-its-own-nature-ethical social enterprise would not make proper provision for pensions. Indeed, it would be far less likely to dip into the pension pot when things go tough.

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  10. Perhaps Mike Russell living in the Colintraive and Glendaruel Dev Trust should be justifying the £1.55 million purchase of 615 hectares of Stronafin Forest.
    £1.3 million coming from an unknown commercial tenant who now has the right to harvest the Forest over a 99 years period and the £311,500 from the Scottish Government’s Scottish Land Fund.
    The other 364 strong two villages Colglen community trust will receive £1 million income from 30 Megawatt wind farm over every year for the next 25 years.
    Not that Mr Russell will benefit personally but it has taken a number of years for this community project into being.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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