Fudge rules: no change – yet – at Argyll and Bute Council

This morning’s performance at Argyll and Bute Council’s August meeting was symptomatic of the irresponsibility that has characterised much of local government here since May 2012 and well before then.

If you had imagined clear physical expression of warring groups, cold shoulders and overt tensions – there is virtually no superficial evidence of any of these.

All is apparently chummy with little dissent – because they have made fudge together beforehand.

The entire chamber is effectively conspiring to defraud the electorate, by failing – still -  to provide from any source, a political management that has a forward-looking lifespan and stability.

The bottom line from this morning is that there is no change to the situation at the Council since or before the council meeting at the end of June.

Argyll is to stagger on for at least another month, with the paper still in place over the cracks .

Part of the reason for this is that there is no agreement yet to describe the obligations of the coalition partners. Unbelievably, the SNP Group ‘negotiators’ did not participate in any joint preparation of such an agreement but left it to their senior partner-to-be, Argyll and Bute for Change to present them with a draft agreement. This proved unacceptable but some members of the SNP Group, led by the Provost,  were prepared to accept it anyway. Others wanted to take back for further discussion what was not acceptable.

This meant that nothing could be presented to the council today – and the fudge was to agree to let the hare sit for the moment.

So – the SNP’s Councillor McCuish is still Council Leader, having been denied the support of some of his own party group.

No Deputy Leader is in place, causing delays in getting some matters signed off in the accustomed timescales.

All current senior posts remain as they were for yet more of the time being.

And no one appears to be in a position to do anything about this state of affairs – or to want to do so.

However, at today’s opening farce, there was interesting evidence [see below] that the seat of power has already shifted, although there is no formal recognition of the fact.

Stirring the fudge

Before the council began, there was a private meeting of the SNP Group in the Council Chamber – with members distributed around seats on the two long forward facing rows of desks. Group Leader Sandy Taylor was wandering around at the front, addressing them. These guys don’t even know how to meet.

There were other caucuses going on elsewhere.

Councillor Walsh was deep in conversation on procedural matters with an officer on the staircase.

At the start of the session Councillor Fred Hall raised the issue of a motion submitted for the meeting by himself and Councillor Iain Angus Macdonald. This had not been placed on the agenda. Neither Councillor had been notified of any inability in the motion nor of any veto exercised in its non-appearance. He asked for it to be read aloud to the chamber and wished to know if the Provost was aware of the decision not to table it.

She said she was – but clearly had no understanding of the reasoning behind the decision. In a flounder, she was rescued by a nimble intervention from the Executive Director of Cutomer Services, Douglas Hendry. He said that the matter of the motion related to the work of the Short Life Working Party on Political Management Arrangements [SWLG]. Tradition apparently prefers to avoid any duplicated discussions and, since there was a report to come to the council from the Short Life Working Group, the feeling had been that the concerns of the absent motion could be raised under the discussion on that item.

In the event, there was no discussion whatsoever on the SWLG report [see below], which is itself of concern – and Councillor Hall raised no issues. Given that both of these councillors are members of Argyll and Bute for Change, a shoe-in to lead the next coalition, it would be important to know of the content of this motion, which might at least, for clarification, have been read aloud as Councillor Hall had asked.

The agreed avoidance of action on political management

When the meeting got going, Item 4 on the agenda was a report from the Short Life Working Group [SWLG] on Political Management Arrangements at the Council.

The two key paragraphs of this two page report came together at the end of it:

‘The SWLG will hold another meeting on 9th September 2013 and is conscious that it deliberations will need to take into account the report from Audit Scotland once it is made available to all members in September or early October.

’3.3 In light of the detail at 3.2 the Council is invited to note that the SLWG has not yet completed its remit but anticipates that it will be in a position to do report back to the September Council meeting.’

The issue here is the contradiction between these two paragraphs and the reality of timescale they simultaneously reveal and conceal.

The first one says that the Working Group’s deliberations will ‘need to take into account the report from Audit Scotland once it is made available to all members in September or early October‘.

This makes clear that the final deliberations of the SWLG cannot be guaranteed to be completed until after early October. This means that no final recommendations to council can be assured before the meeting at the end of October.

Then the last paragraph, 3.3, says that the SWLG  ‘anticipates that it will be in a position to report back to the September Council meeting’.

This does not commit to submitting its recommendations to the council at the end of September. With the probability that the Audit Scotland report will not be accessible to all members until early October, no such commitment could credibly be given.

However, the tone and carefully vague working of that last paragraph – suggesting an end to the matter -  means no more than that another report from this group will come to council at the end of September.

We understand from Audit Scotland that the availability of the commissioners’ report to all members is very unlikely to come in September; and that ‘early October’ might be a tad optimistic.

So what we are looking at, at best, is recommendations coming to council from the SWLG at the meeting at the end of October.

Suppose that the Audit Scotland report is made available in, say, mid-October – on Monday 16th.

According to the public calendar on the council website, no date has yet been set for the October council meeting; but it is traditionally held on the last Thursday of the month. That would be Thursday 28th October.

Audit Scotland have had serious and delicate matters to investigate and will have, in the way of these things, perhaps unduly, guarded conclusions to present.

No one knows what Audit Scotland are going to be saying.

When the report is available, unless it issues a clean bill of health on member-to-member relations and on member-to-officer relations in the council, whatever it says will require mature consideration in any recommendations on the way forward.

It is hard to see the SWLG preparing its final recommendations in the small space available between this possible reception of the Audit Commissioners’ report and the October council meeting.

So the earliest we can reasonably expect recommendations for political management of the council from this group is the November meeting of the council.

Yet we know that backstairs arrangements are well advanced – outside the SWLG – to see into power a new coalition led by the Argyll and Bute for Change Group and with the SNP Group as junior partners.

Quite how this improper situation is finessed into some sort of apparently acceptable procedural conclusion is impossible to understand. But that will be done.

There will be a smooth and challengeable shoe-horn statement made to council by the Executive Director of Customer Services – which will not be challenged because anther batch of fudge will have been made beforehand.

This morning, in any responsible circumstance, there ought to have been, from somewhere in the chamber, an objection to the situation created by the report from the SWLG. But there was not a single bat-squeak.

The entire chamber, with no evidence of contrary advice from senior officers, appears to believe it is OK for Argyll to carry on in its current limbo. One evidence of that limbo in the absence of recommendations from the SWLG was the sheer length – again – of today’s agenda: 29 items with an urgent one from the Education Director added at the start of the meeting.

The signal of transfer of power

As the meeting was to move to the next item from the non-consideration of anything to do with the report of the SLWG, Lay Member of Council, Mr William Crossan, former Headmaster of Campbeltown Grammar School asked – pointedly – if there would be a value in establishing an Education Committee, since the council tended not to address education issues in much detail.

At this point, Councillor Dick Walsh – still formally Leader of the Opposition – intervened, without invitation from the Provost in the Chair, to assure Mr Crossan that there were matters in train which would address his concerns.

This assurance cannot have been given from the authority of the Short Life Working Group on Political Management Arrangements since that is chaired by Council Leader McCuish; and since the brief report of the SLWG to council today contains no mention of any discussions on the possible scrutiny of education matters.

This was a point of information and assurance to the chamber from the man who is now effectively – but below formal visibility, the seat of power in Argyll and Bute Council.

Our concerns here remain with the probity of procedure – which appears to be a matter of little concern on the elected or the executive side of Argyll and Bute Council.

This morning’s deployment was perfectly surreal.

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29 Responses to Fudge rules: no change – yet – at Argyll and Bute Council

  1. On a point of factual correction, the question about the re-establishment of an education committee was not put by Councillor Rory Colville but by Mr William Crossan, Church of Scotland representative.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

    • Many thanks for this correction.
      That explains the odd sound of the name ‘Colville’ – whom we ‘identified’ because the person making the welcome introduction was sitting beside Councillor Robin Currie form Islay, whose Lib Dem colleague is Councillor Colville – and we could only see the back of the speaker’s head.
      Mr Crossan, a lay member of council, is a former headmaster of Campbeltown Grammar School and has an informed awareness of education issues.
      We will correct the text above now.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

    • Further points of factual correction reported from the meeting by someone who stayed the course.
      The Provost ruled the Hall motion not competent – councillors know the Provost’s ruling is final.
      There were 30 items of business. 28 were agreed unanimously. The SNP won support across the chamber to defeat amendments from the LibDems/Conservatives and Dick Walsh/ABFC on the other two items.
      The competence of the SNP Group is not in question it is their loyalty to their own Council Leader, their political judgement and their courage.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  2. I am surprised Alex Salmond bothered to come to Argyll & Bute yesterday given the chaos of the SNP in this county.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 11

  3. I understand your frustration. Hours of toiling away over a hot keyboard, breathlessly pounding out your latest authoritative scoop for the the guid folk of Argyll on what will definitely happen and then those rotten councillors go and spoil it all by doing something completely different! So your funeral address for Roddy McCuish as Council Leader was a bit premature (again).

    It’s like that Bob Allen: you triumphantly let the world know that he has resigned as SNP constituency Chairman for opposing your anointed one and then the ingrate has the temerity not to resign! Indeed it was news to him that he had actually even thought about it. Does he not read For Argyll and KNOW that every word on here is gospel so if he hadn’t thought about resigning when you wrote that piece he had better get a move on afterwards?!.

    And let’s not get you started on the EU! You slaved over several, long articles months ago explaining why your flawless and indeed faultless analysis PROVED that the Euro would inevitably collapse any day now… and now the feckless Eurocrats seem to have staved off the crisis! Do they not read For Argyll either?!?

    Sometimes it must seem that the whole world is against you – except for Deep Throat of course but then again he has his own agenda.

    Of course, even the infinite monkeys eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare so one day one of your predictions MUST come true – mustn’t it? In the meantime, I for one won’t be holding my breath.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 14

    • Well, at least you are one of many taking the time to read all the articles on this website and apparently even keener to respond with your views, usually slating Newsroom.

      Mike Russell MSP must be quite astonished after claiming that no-one reads this blog!

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 9

      • Lowry: I do read it about once a day on average. Lynda Henderson does write some interesting pieces of genuine news on local events. It’s just a shame that her political bias drives her to write such a large amount of ill-informed drivel as well as the good stuff.

        You would need to ask Lynda herself about the amount of traffic her site receives but a lot of the familiar “faces” seem to have gone.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 7

        • I suspect many of the familiar faces are still here but simply cannot be bothered correcting posters with an agenda. I tend not to post often as “the usual suspects” suck the pleasure out of debate.

          If I were to write, we do NOT need a vehicle ferry, just a passenger ferry capable of achieving the crossing reliably, someone is bound to crawl out from under a rock. Or press the dislike thing repeatedly.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 6

          • You could be right Grant. I certainly empathise with your feeling that FA has become joyless – I would go further and say unpleasant. There used to be some enjoyable banter in the discussions but it has all become very negative and entrenched. A pity.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 6

  4. As I said before the pantomime season lasts all year round in Argyll with Kilmory providing all the main characters.
    It really should be put back to the vote to try and end this very sad and farcical behaviour.
    Important decisions to be made on elderly care provision, Education, economic development and jobs to name just a few and all they have to offer is this shambles Argyll deserves better.
    Cheers Neil.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 18 Thumb down 9

  5. From For Argyll
    “Provost Isobel Strong is to lead for the SNP on discussions of detail – again a role that must be questioned if she intends, as we understand she does, to continue in her role as Provost.
    The division of the spoils – always important in such circles – sees 8 senior posts go to the independents in Argyll and Bute for Change and 6 to the SNP Group. For the avoidance of doubt, senior posts carry an additional salary.
    Councillor Strong is indeed to be Provost, however procedurally disqualified she may now be.
    Argyll and Bute for Change Alliance member, Councillor Dougie Philand, is to be Depute Provost.
    Councilor Dick Walsh is, as we said, to be Council Leader, with the SNP’s Councillor John Semple as Depute Leader.
    The other 5 senior posts allocated to the SNP are to go to Councillor Sandy Taylor, SNP Group Leader; Councillor Robert MacIntyre; Councillor Gordon Blair; Councilor Richard Trail; and Councillor Anne Horn.
    This Thursday’s full council meeting, 28th August, will see the formalities voted through.”
    I take it this happened because it if has not surely For Argyll would apologise and print a retraction.

    Or maybe her sources are being a wee bit naughty!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

    • Well, I can believe that might have been the plan but when did this lot manage to bring a plan to fruition? Perhaps they can only manage it with the intervention of the MSP? What’s his name again?

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 8

    • SNP branch colleagues have confirmed that For Argyll has it correct. They were forced to delay changes last Thursday following legal advice. This will happen.

      The big problem is that when you look at the experience and quality (or lack of it) of those listed above who will be trying to run the Council, panic sets in. Three of the five SNP (Taylor, Blair and Trail) have no experience and have clearly demonstrate that over the past 18 months. The way Taylor has been manipulated over the past couple of months shows that Walsh will have him wrapped around his small finger.

      Strong only wants the gold chain and the money that goes with it and Semple will be out of his depth trying to control Walsh.

      The Argyll First three have no commitment. Kelly (the guy who swore he would never work with Walsh again), Philand and McAlpine are never seen as they are too busy doing their day jobs.

      Watch the fight over the Area Committee Chair’s jobs.

      This is NOT good news for Argyll & Bute and can only ensure that things will go from bad to worse.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  6. What a shower of wasters, stop all salaries till its all sorted out. That we only have to wait till the. Morning, SNP should not have any seats if they cannot do the job in the first place, what the point of a opposition that runs from power? And cannot govern Sack them all.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 10

  7. NEWSIE I got the impression that you and few others did not stay for the whole meeting !

    Was there a wee separate meeting taking place over croissants?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

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