The prospect of being exchanged for the SNP group next year as Council Leader Walsh’s support act, clearly improved the fidelity of the Argyll Lomond and the Isles group of councillors at Thursday’s council meeting in Ardrishaig.
The division on the finance motion, proposed by Councillor James Robb, told a story.
While some hands are said to have been slow in going up, every single one of Councillor Walsh’s administration – including the Argyll First and Argyll, Lomond and the Isles groups, voted against the motion in supporting an amendment of ‘No Action’.
The Robb motion had identified a serious shortfall in the council’s budget under current spending plans announced by the Council Leader. This shortfall is so serious that it can only result in either the cutting back on commitments to key existing projects – or in more borrowing.
In the context of a council throwing money at consultants with no apparent discrimination and borrowing in the face of known compulsory restraint to come, the thought of recourse to even more borrowing to bolster popularity is a serious cause for concern.
The Robb motion pointed to current spending leaving a revised surplus of £2.058m in the General Fund and listed the unfunded potential demands on this surplus, including:
- a projected overspend in 2013-14 of £225k
- additional contribution to replacement Oban High School
- additional contribution to replacement Campbeltown Grammar School
- contribution to new Primary schools configuration in Dunoon
- underwriting an estimated £5.1m of capital receipts to fund Helensburgh Office Project
- a shortfall of £2m in funding Helensburgh Leisure Facility of £2m
- estimated severance costs to 2019-20 of £11m.
The motion had asked the council to agree to address the situation outlined above by transferring £2.2m to capital in order to fund the shortfall in the agreed Capital Plan for 2013-14 – due to the uncertainties around the capital receipt from the sale of Castle Toward.
Yet, a chamber-full of councillors, with a massive majority for the current coalition administration, still voted to support a clearly unable budget.
At the meeting, the motion was moved by Councillor Robb and seconded by Councillor Taylor. Council Leader Dick Walsh moved his amendment, which was seconded by Deputy Leader, Ellen Morton.
No-one else spoke. There was no debate but Councillor Robb spoke in support of the motion. All 7 SNP councillors present voted for the motion. The rest of the chamber supported the Council Leader’s amendment for ‘No Action’.
As a force in opposition, it has to be said that the rump SNP is less than effective.
The notions of serious research work on the issues of the moment and of motions reflecting the results of such scrutiny do not seem to appeal to the current meandering ‘leadership’ of the rump by newbie Councillor Sandy Taylor, who has not yet got a year’s service as a councillor under his belt.
He is said to be taking his instructions from CEO Sally Loudon, which, as a former council officer, he is used to following.
With the amenity service cuts all approved by the Council yesterday [19th December], effectively all the budget decisions of the previous administration and its budget strategy framework have now been adopted by the new administration.
The key difference remains that responsibility for decisions on the targets for £1.9 million budget cuts have been transferred to council officers by the current administration. This underlines the reality of Argyll ad Bute Council being officer led. This leaves unelected and paid council officers deciding – with no accountability – on the targets for substantial cuts.
It appears to be universally accepted that Former Lead Councillor on Finance under the varieties of SNP-led coalition administrations, James Robb, got nothing wrong – except planning to close Dunoon’s undersubscribed Struan Lodge care home. This has since been reprieved at the cost of the ability of the council’s care provision to respond to more widespread need.
The sandpit bullies
The situation in the council is clearly a deeply personalised combat zone.
After the division which saw the Robb motion roundly defeated by the majority block, Council Leader Walsh actually shouted across the Ardrishaig Public Hall, where the meeting was held yesterday: ‘What about that, James Robb?’
Both the Leader and Deputy Leader Councillor Ellen Morton had to be chastised by the Provost for being personal.
But in the end, all that mattered was the result..
The main purpose of the meeting was achieved – to get the agenda rammed through without the distraction of any serious debate – in good time for the members’ Christmas lunch.
At Argyll and Bute Council, priorities are immovable. We may see key projects cut back in the coming year but hey – the turkeys got the turkey.
Note: This article has been amended. It originally showed Councillor Breslin as seconding Councillor Robb’s motion at the council meeting. It was, in fact, SNP Group Leader, Sandy Taylor, who was the seconder. We apologise for the error.
As a matter of interest, the finance motion in question was about plugging the gap in finances resulting from the failure to see Castle Toward.