Council Leader, James Robb, has emailed administration councillors in a magisterial response to the astonishing email they received yesterday from local MSP, Michael Russell. [Our article on this matter is here.]
In that email, which even this morning seems breathtakingly out of control – Mr Russell expressed himself as if he was the authority in a council in which he has no formal authority whatsoever. He had actually gone so far as to intervene with the Council’s Chief Executive, asking her to stop all offficer’s work on the council decision to close the Struan Lodge care home in Dunoon.
In his response to colleagues, Council Leader James Robb – the subject of what has all the appearance of an open coup attempt by a Russell clique in the SNP group – has been calm, objective and magisterial.
Councillor Robb’s email reads:
‘I am afraid Michael doesn’t quite grasp that this is a matter for Council members to decide or understand the Council decision making process. The decision of the Council on this matter is being progressed by officers in the normal manner. Part of that is a consultation process and that is on-going so it would be quite wrong to pre-empt the outcome of that but this contribution will be taken into account.
Michael is quite correct that the Council has agreed that a viable potential buy-out of Struan Lodge as a going concern would be given careful consideration by the Council as to how it was best progressed. To the best of my knowledge not even an outline business case has been brought forward so far.
Michael clearly doesn’t understand that Struan Lodge is just a part of a strategic vision to deliver better and fairer services to all the adults in need of care in Argyll & Bute in times of great financial difficulty. There are other choices and capacity for patients leaving hospital in the Cowal area so as Michael crudely refers to it “bed blocking” should not be occurring. What is of great concern is that if the Council doesn’t realise efficiency savings there will be real problems in the future with delayed discharge putting pressure on the NHS capacity and also delays to getting future care packages in place as quickly as possible. We must look to the future as we will have increasing numbers of older people requiring care and they all deserve to be treated fairly. I am confident that we all continue to recognise that to secure that fairer long term quality of service to all our older people requiring care some very difficult decisions are required. It is disappointing that others take a different short term view that seems to have little regard for local democracy.
Finally, can I apologise to our coalition partners for this serious breach of protocol.
The issue and the consequences
The Council Leader is concerned for the integrity of process, which has been at a discount in the Russell faction.
He is utterly correct in this concern. Once the integrity of process has been overridden, government at any level is into ‘robber baron’ territory where the most determined buccaneer carries the day, with rights and fairness immediate discards.
Councillor Robb is also concerned with fairness for everyone. The case here is one where, in very tight financial times, any governing body’s responsibility is to make the fairest distribution for all of scarce resources.
In this case, the three year cost of maintaining Struan Lodge for a small number of those in need of care is around £1.2 million. That sum would support care packages and other relief for a substantially larger number of the equally needy.
And that is the issue.
The real issue here is that, having taken one of the hardest decisions, it is incumbent upon the council itself to be involved in ensuring that the eventual arrangements made for the transfer of care of the Struan Lodge patients is individual, sensitive and helpful in the extreme and that the manner of the making and carrying out of these arrangements is equally sensitive and helpful at an individual level.
Elderly folk, already disoriented, can be dangerously destabilised by the removal of the last security they have.
They must not be treated as a job lot to be moved from one facility to others.
They are individuals. Each of their cases is specific to them and to their families. It must be treated as such and resolved as such
We must accept the necessary judiciousness of the council decision because there is no other just criterion to govern the distribution of very limited resources than a care for fairness for all concerned.
But we need to see a council engaged with the consequences of its actions and with a demonstrable care for the individual.
The two emails
The difference in the attitudes of Councillor Robb and Michael Russell is laid bare in their respective emails.
Councillor Robb’s is strictly about the issue and about due procedure.
Mr Russell’s is essentially about himself – his importance, his authority [which has no constitutional foundation in terms of Argyll and Bute Council] his actions, his views, his intentions.
It is all ‘I’.
His intervention with the Council CEO is wholly unconstitutional and indefensible.
The ancient Greeks had a word for this sort of behaviour – ‘hubris’. It covers a doom brought upon a man who loses sight of his given place in the scheme of things and acts as if he is himself the agent of events and not the Gods. Mr Russell’s tone and expression in his email to administration councillors is an example of just such a dangerous loss of perspective.
Where the Council Leader is concerned with the objective – as he must be – Mr Russell is concerned with the subjective – known to be fuelled by his overriding concern for the impact of this on his own career. He shows no awareness of or interest in the provision of proper care for other needy elderly folk across Argyll.
Where Councillor Robb emphasises the imperative of fairness, Mr Russell wants to do deals.
Both men are politicians who are affected by unpopular decisions.
The difference between them is that Councillor Robb supports a decision made on the tough merits of the case and accepts, without complaint, the impact upon himself of the public response in the area affected. Mr Russell is, not for the first time, panicking about his own interests and thrashing around with no regard for the overall picture across Argyll and Bute.
Argyll and Bute is entitled to and needs stable local government, without the external political interference that has been the agent of disruption in this coalition administration from its beginning less than a year ago.
It has lost one good and honourable leader already. It cannot afford to lose another such – and nor can the party that leads this coalition.
The Council Leader has recognised this in the graceful apology he makes at the end of his email to his party’s coalition partners, which essentially respects the separate rights of their position.
Note: Our article on the email to which the Council Leader is responding, is here. This was sent yesterday by Michael Russell MSP to administration councillors, along with a copy of a press release he had already issued on his actions, is here.