Concern that change of council administration may impact on Oban CHORD project

The entire CHORD project – funded urban regeneration schemes for each of Argyll’s five keystone towns - Campbeltown, Helensburgh, Oban, Rothesay and Dunoon – has been an expensive mess from the outset.

It began with a teststerone-packed winner-takes-all competition between the five, utterly at odds with the continuing pork-barrel politics of local government, throwing the odd morsel into each of several pens to keep the inhabitants minimally content.

All five towns failed to produce competent proposals, so more money was thrown to continue to employ consultants to help to steer them to competition standard.

The reality dawned – late – that one winner would mean four sore losers.

When the decision was made, the then Council Leader, Dick Walsh, was wreathed in beatific smiles as he pronounced that they were ALL winners and that the council would raid its reserves to pay for ALL the schemes to go ahead.

The story since then has been one of management failures, changes of plan, virement of funds, unminuted meetings, inaction and a delivery marked by how little has actually happened and how little is even certain.

Local politics and the promotion of councillors’ own vanity projects saw the Oban CHORD project suffer in addition to most of the features noted above.

The shambles this quickly became saw a town with an intrinsic, unique attraction and natural advantages remain in serious need of regeneration.

Over the past year, the Oban CHORD project has, for the first time, been making real progress, with projects important to the economic growth of the town moving much closer to becoming a reality. A key example here is the planned transit marina for the town side of Oban Bay, with walk ashore access direct to the town centre.

The decisions now taken need to be formerly actioned – which is normally done simply by the Council Leader and Depute Council Leader. Due to the state of play with the SNP machinations, there is currently only a Council Leader, Councilor McCuish, with no Depute Leader. He could, constitutionally, action the decisions alone – but Council officers are unnerved by the volatility of the scenario in which they are compelled to work just now so it is unlikely that Councillor McCuish would wish to take such an action.

With next week’s full meeting of Argyll and Bute Council certain to see a change of administration, there is well founded concern amongst the Oban business community that this change might destabilise the progress of the vital CHORD project. And it might. The uncertainty alone is unhelpful in terms of public confidence.

Audit Scotland are in Kilmory at the moment, investigating member-to-member relations, with a nervous CEO keen to be present at as many individual interviews with members as possible. The commissioners will be present at next week’s meeting, which, on form, should be an instructive experience.

Games people play at Kilmory

Elected members of Argyll and Bute Council have, for a long time now, been engaged incessantly in kaleidoscopic shifts of position, structure and group membership, seeing:

  • the SNP party hierarchy continuing to do everything possible to ensure that, whatever happens and, literally, at all costs, the SNP are formally responsible for nothing [although they were elected to responsibility, as the largest group and have worked in deliberate self-mutilation to lose that dominance];
  • pressure constantly applied to a core group of SNP councillors to give in and join the lemmings.
  • turkeys digging in against the onset of Christmas, as those who actually left the current administration some time ago have nevertheless continued to cling to their paid senior positions within it. And yes, this does beggar belief.

The pressured core group of SNP councillors, under the notional leadership of novice councillor, Sandy Taylor whose own position is variable, have worked to make the party face up to its elected responsibilities rather than cut and run, as it insists on doing.

Those at the heart of this group Рcurrent Council Leader Roddy McCuish and Councillors  Mary Jean Devon, Louise Glen-Lee and James Robb Рcannot hold the ring much longer. They will personally be judged by their respective constituents on whether or not they go with the flow that has put the deformed contortions of party interest above those of Argyll.

It will take a choir of fat ladies to sing in synch before anyone can be sure what has actually happened at next week’s council meeting – the last before the July recess.

Predictably the manoeuvering is ongoing and while all that is certain is that this meeting will see change of some kind, the planned likelihood is that the 17-strong Argyll and Bute for Change group will become a minority administration, replacing an SNP-led administation with the agreed support of an SNP group led into that position by Councillor Sandy Taylor.

The key thing here is that this will be an informal – and even possibly unspoken – arrangement, since the SNP party’s sole objective remains to get to a position where it can be held responsible for nothing.

This surreal plan would see:

  • the SNP support into office the very group of councillors whose previous administration they claimed to have badly damaged Argyll;
  • the SNP dump their own administration and support into office those whom – as a result of the SNP’s explicit campaign in May 2012 – the electorate set aside in favour of the SNP as the largest group of elected councillors;
  • the SNP with two members active in a politically competitive group – Argyll and Bute for Change – while still retaining party membership and attending party group meetings;
  • the possibility that this group might even vote in as Council Leader the novice councillor, SNP resignee and serial trouble maker within the SNP, Councillor Michael Breslin. We discount this rumour – which is being mooted in Dunoon – because it is impossible to believe that Councilor Duncan McIntyre, who has a better claim to the leadership, would step aside. However, given the illicit meeting of the two-man College of Cardinals at Councillor MacIntyre’s home last week – himself and local MSP Michael Russell, to whom Councilor Breslin is close – who knows, until next Thursday, just what deal went down then?

Bolters versus stayers

The number and membership of that SNP group will not be known until the deed is done at next Thursday’s meeting – although, with fudge the flavour of Argyll and Bute, it is not impossible that that will remain unclear.

There will be keen constituency interest in seeing just who goes where and who chooses to keep their position to themselves.

The reality, which the political caste cannot see, is that Argyll is heartsick of this mess, of the continual game-playing, of strings pulled from outside, of the deliberate lack of transparency.

Those who voted for each and every one of the SNP councillors need to know exactly were they stand – and to know whether each prioritises fidelity to their electorate or fidelity to their party.

The SNP, as a party, has damaged itself immeasurably with its machinations to get out of the power it had campaigned successfully to be given.

There is absolutely no residual credit for the party in any of this, nor for any of the councillors who have gone along with it. The party has shown no responsibility to Argyll or to colleagues; and no trace of strategic political intelligence or common sense.

Current Council Leader, Roddy McCuish from Oban, who has always been a gold-standard of personal integrity, of care for his constituency and for the wider interests of Argyll, of collegiality and of a very savvy common sense, is bound to make some sort of El Alamo last stand in defence of right.

With his own party whipped against him, he is unlikely to carry the day – but will deservedly emerge from a year seeing plunging local credit for his party, with his personal credit higher than ever.

And the SNP has chosen to pay the enormous cost in credibility of being seen to be a bolter in tough times – to protect the ‘Yes’ vote September 2014′s independence referendum. Everyone knows that an independent Scotland would face very tough times and serious challenges to its competence in its early days.

Fro the evidence of what has been going on in Argyll within the SNP. how can the party that bolts from local government responsibilities hope to persuade the nation that it can be trusted to handle national government bravely, competently, straightforwardly, with transparency and without internal civil war?

Note: Argyll and Bute for Change is made up of the former Alliance of Independent Councillors [9], two resignees from the SNP group, two current members of the SNP group, the three Argyll First councillors and an Independent from Oban North and Lorn. Specifically, they are:

  • Vivien Dance [Helensburgh Central, Independent]
  • Iain Angus Macdonald [Oban North and Lorn, Independent]
  • Alistair MacDougall [Mull, Independent]
  • Duncan MacIntyre [Oban North and Lorn, Independent]
  • Donnie Macmillan [Mid Argyll, Independent]
  • Bruce Marshall [Cowal, Independent]
  • Alex McNaughton [Cowal, Independent]
  • James McQueen [Dunoon, Independent]
  • Len Scoullar [Bute, Independent]
  • Dick Walsh [Dunoon, Independent]
  • Donald Kelly [South Kintyre, Argyll First]
  • John McAlpine [Kintyre and the Islands, Argyll First]
  • Dougie Philand [Mid Argyll, Argyll First]
  • Michael Breslin [Independent - SNP resignee, Dunoon]
  • Fred Hall [Independent - SNP resignee, Oban South and the Isles]
  • Gordon Blair [SNP, Cowal]
  • Robert E Macintyre [SNP, Bute]
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17 Responses to Concern that change of council administration may impact on Oban CHORD project

  1. Newsie –you are a comic !

    You state that “..Current Council Leader, Roddy McCuish from Oban, who has always been a gold-standard of personal integrity, of care for his constituency and for the wider interests of Argyll, of collegiality and of a very savvy common sense, is bound to make some sort of El Alamo last stand in defence of right.” What a laugh.

    Wasn’t the Alamo a defeat?

    A few weeks ago someone asked if you were Robbs Love child? —they were almost right but now we know the truth !

    Cllr McCuish must regret appearing in the Herald a few weeks back declaring he was willing to lead on his own. How sad those statements are now. He must wish when he stood down as leader the 1st time that he had just stuck to being an ordinary councillor rather than listen to others wanting a wee promoted post but wishing him to take the flak.

    Incidentally for accuracy (I know, I know, this is For Argyll) Cllr’s Mcintyre and Blair did not resign from the SNP as you keep quoting but then your accuracy on reporting resignations is hardly 100% (more like 0%)

    Whoever takes charge next week must take on the officials at executive level— most of us voters will agree to that.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 7

  2. H20 “must take on the officials at executive level” – why? You keep banging on about Struan – for the record there was NO recommendation from officers to close Struan lodge. That came direct from the SNP Group ALL of whom voted for it – except Breslin and Blair – who abstained.

    Closing Struan Lodge was and remains an SNP policy – as to date it has NOT been rescinded.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

    • The Closing of Struan Lodge was James Robb’s Policy and one he has been heard to say on numerous occasions then deny saying it on others. The problems with this situation are the Leader decides what jobs with payment go to which individuals irrespective of ability. Many of the ongoings at the moment are by individuals more intent on keeping their stipends than on any drive to do the best for the folk of Argyll and Bute. If your pal is not leader your chances to get the extra payments are diminished. Ask Roddy Mccuish and James Robb who have offered various individuals positions at different occasions and been rejected by some Gordon Blair for one and accepted by others Mrs Morton and her Daughter spring to mind.
      We need the council to be decided on ability not the amount of money they receive. A friend from Oban has told me some of the comments from the council leader if he looses the extra finance he at present receives.
      Why does Newsie not interview these people instead of guessing what that are going to do and if they refuse to speak to her tell the wider public. The Oban folks tell me that the 3 amigos had a letter in the Oban times today. After their attitude to pay for position and they way they have behaved to their colleagues it beggars belief

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  3. Lynda you are certainly looking very vibrant but to be Robb,s love child Is just stretching it a wee bit.
    Excellent article on Chord in the OT. the new Oban Chord manager Linda Houston just rips it to bits so we look forward to Duncan MacIntyre,s response as he was chair in the last Administration when nothing was done.
    Roddy was also involved so he will have to explain the complete shambles we have been highlighting for a long time.
    I certainly agree with H20 that senior management like Robert Pollock and Sandy McTaggart have to explain themselves on the way these things have been handled.If we were to run a business like they have handled chord we would not last long.
    Sadly they can sit and produce nothing and they are safe in the knowledge that their jobs are secure along with their pensions unlike the ordinary workers who just get sacked for either having a bit of fun about Sally,s dress sense or Jo Smith who according to the council,s own investigation did nothing.
    Robert Pollock confirmed he had not spent one penny of the £6.9 Million of Chord Oban had been allocated in over 5 years that as far as I am concerned means he should go and take a few others with him.
    Cheers Neil.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

    • Perhaps Robert Pollock wasn’t able to spend any of the money because the bickering councillors couldn’t (or wouldn’t ) decide what to spend it on. The councillors are supposed to make policy ( or at least approve it) and the officers are there to carry it out. That’s the theory anyway but with this bunch of kindergarten councillors it’s no wonder it never happens.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

      • Since the above refers to the Oban Chord project can I report that a large area of roadway near the pier in Dunoon has been scarrified and relaid with tarmac. All very nice as far as it goes but much of this was relaid only a few short years ago and part of it is designated to be a turfed pedestrian area when/if the Dunoon Chord project goes ahead.

        I wonder who is responsible for this waste of public money or are the Chord projects going to disappear without trace?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  4. Cheers short and sweet. I think it is time for Roddy to hand over the e-mails to Lynda and let everybody see what our councillors have been doing behind the scenes .If what Duncan has been trying to pull together is seen as the answer for Argyll then we are in big trouble but these people were voted in so we got what we voted for.
    Obviously if the Administration goes with Duncan Roddy,Mary Jean and Louise will resign from the SNP and move to be Independents as any other action would make them look very stupid.
    I think the sooner we get the Administration sorted the better then we can really start to attack Duncan and his gang as they will be an easy target the leopards don,t change their spots.
    Cheers Neil.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

    • ‘…then we can really start to attack Duncan and his gang…’ – I don’t know much at all about the politicians you’re referring to, and to anyone outside Argyll I’d venture a guess that this area of Scotland is beginning to look about as ungovernable as the tribal districts on the northwest frontier of Pakistan.
      You presumably see the council as a battleground, rather than as an instrument for fair and effective administration of this area of the country.
      I wonder if you’ve just stepped out of a time machine, and think you’re back in the days of corrupt, self serving schemers who really couldn’t give a damn for the real concerns of the peasants?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

    • Leopards don’t change their spots Neil? Some of this lot have changed to stripes and back again and then showed up as every colour of the rainbow along the way. All except Dick Walsh of course – he’s lying low in a discreet shade of camouflage.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

    • Neil: We will have the delicious insanity of SNP councillors in the new administration and SNP councillors in opposition – who knows what we may see?
      Duncan MacIntyre et al may well slip through on the tide while the sacrificial anodes they have on the hull take the wear and tear. The numpties do make up the numbers but they can be useful in all sorts of ways to so seasoned a manipulator.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. Helensburgh’s CHORD plans make Oban’s look like a model of economic dynamism; the prospect of a pontoon at the pier for leisure boaters to visit is as distant a prospect as ever, never mind a transit marina. A cohesive vision for the whole pier area is similarly so much vapourware.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Absolutely agree. The entire CHORD programme is an example of how not to do anything – and some suspect that this expression may be read literally.
      Rothesay and then Helensburgh are in the worst state of the five keystone towns; Dunoon is physically less damaged but, in terms of revisioning, is as close to insoluble as one would wish to go; Oban’s bad teeth and poor hair-do are on daily show; and Campbeltown is an unfinished symphony.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  6. Well Robert the last bit of your post certainly covers my thoughts on a lot of Argyll,s councillors as for for just stepping out of a time machine well if Doctor Who can fix this council then bring it on.
    You obviously think they offer us peasants a fair and effective Administration well please tell all of us what I have missed.
    As for a battleground well if you don,t fight to give our communities from our young to our elderly the best services we can then these clowns in Kilmory will continue to stick two fingers up to us all.
    If you look at the posts on the utter shambles concerning Chord and the money wasted and the councillors just nodding along without any challenge to what they have been told
    that to me is certainly not effective or fair administration.
    Cheers Neil.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  7. Neil,- you say ‘councillors just nodding along without any challenge to what they have been told’.
    Does this not just reflect the quality of Councillors we have in Argyll and Bute?
    Are they capable of any more? Recent performances suggest not!
    At future elections we the voters should remember this. Perhaps it’s time to flush out those who are past their sell by date and more importantly the Councillors who say very little and do even less (except take the money).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. short and sweet Louise has already told me she will not be standing for re-election so I am not counting on her for the future. As for the Oban Chord all of the councillors have to take responsibility for this project not only the ones on the board.
    I will be rattling into Roddy as he has to take responsibility for the performance of the directors so even if he is a close friend he has to explain why this was allowed to go on.
    I think Louise would be very worried if she thought I was her pal.
    Cheers Neil.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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