Management and budgets at Argyll & Bute Council: The Reform Group

The substance of The Reform Group’s proposals on re-engineering management and budgets at Argyll & Bute Council is invigorating and challenging, if often impractical either operationally or, sadly, by being a universe away from the rub of the green in local politics whose death-dealing self interest and corrupting external party interferences is likely to see it kicked into touch.

The source of the proposals is also well worth review – since that same self interest and that same external agenda is unlikely, variously, to be absent from the personal and collective strategies of its members. Let’s start there.

The Reform Group

The Reform Group at Argyll & Bute Council comprises three elected councillors:

  • Michael Breslin for Dunoon;
  • Vivien Dance for Helensburgh Central
  • Bruce Marshall for Cowal.

The driver of the group and its intellectual powerhouse is Councillor Breslin, former head of Argyll College.

None of the three profess any political group alignment, with Dance and Marshall declared as and elected as ‘Independent’; and Breslin, elected as an SNP Councillor, now simply describing his affiliation as ‘None’.

Councillor Breslin was suspended from SNP membership during the infamous period of 2012-13 when the SNP-led coalition administration at Argyll & Bute Council was destroyed by its own party hierarchy through three successive leaderships.

Each of these carried on as best it could in defiance of party instructions to walk out of power; and each attempted, in so doing, to be faithful to the needs of the Argyll electorate which, by voting them into power, had put its trust in them.

The party’s greater concern was with protecting the vote for independence, then yet to come, against well meaning decisions taken by a rookie group keen to do the right thing – which is not always the popular thing.

Councillor Breslin was not suspended for defying the party’s will. On the contrary, in his robust pursuit of its instructions to get the SNP administration in this part of the world out of power at all costs, he fell into the trap of threatening to resign from the SNP group – only to find that bluff called by then Leader, Councillot Roddy McCuish.

He remains close to the party hierarchy, is – with reason – valued by them and, equally reasonably, is despairing of the ability of the rump formal SNP group of councillors, which suffered departures other than Councillor Breslin’s – and for a range of reasons, fully tragic, fully comical and occasionally dishonourable.

Prior to the formation of The Reform Group, Councillor Dance, a famous opportunist, had very publicly become a member of the SNP. She is said not to wish to be an SNP councillor while her former Group leader, Councillor Dick Walsh, remains in power as Council Leader.

The political logic of this position defies us; and is likely to be rooted in personal animus at her eventual sidelining by the Leader whose favour she had previously assiduously sought. This included betraying the Park school for very special needs which is sited in her area, by openly supporting the Walsh-led administration’s attempt to close it – along with 25 others – in the infamous ‘School Wars’ of 2010-11.

Councillor Marshall is an unlikely radical but is clearly having the time of his life under the wing of Councillor Breslin and as part of a group concerned with genuine thought and strategic planning. It is always good to see people reborn, as it were and enlivened by the breeze of possible change.

So where is The Reform Group going?

While we would not quite describe the group as a Trojan Horse, it would be remiss not to consider where it will be and what it will do in and after the 2017 Scottish Local Authority Elections.

The SNP is clearly going to want to try to recover the reputational damage it suffered in its pantomimic betrayal of the Argyll electorate last time out.

It will want to do well enough to lead alone as a majority administration; and the likelihood of the temperature of the times, although the heat appears reduced, has to be that they will achieve this result.

Their concern will already be to ensure that, in this anticipated outcome, they will have the capacity to govern within their elected cohort.

The party has little faith in the ability of the current formal SNP group – not necessarily in some individuals but in the collective. Proof of the foundation for the party’s despair at the inability of this group comes from the very issue of the moment – the council budget for 2016-17. Last night, 9th February, the group sent out a press release trumpeting their own budget proposals for consideration – but were unable to sat a thing about these proposals – because they weren’t finished.

The daftness of trying to sell a pig in a poke apart, the Council administration published its own controversial ‘Service Choices ‘ cuts paper months ago and it has been out to consultation for a considerable time – and 36 hours before the council meeting this lot still don’t know what they’re saying. Moreover, the press release gave no indication – whatever this proposal turns out to be tomorrow, that it has been costed.

While the SNP may see new some faces elected to the party group next year, local politics carries strong personal affinities to local councillors who are seen to be hard working, engaged and to fight for their area’s interests. There are many who will be hard to dislodge.

This means that the SNP cannot afford not to include The Reform Group; and not to see Councillor Breslin as its Leader of an SNP majority administration here.

When one examines the specific proposals from The Reform Group, to be considered at tomorrow’s council meetings, it is immediately obvious where the interest of Councillor Dance will be focused; and possibly – although with less certain success, also that of Councillor Marshall.

We do not see Councillor Breslin as driven particularly by self interest in this; but by the need to put his abilities, experience and energy to good use in the interests of the party whose ambitions he certainly supports; and by the buzz of challenge.

Note: The companion to this article – our analysis of The Reform Group’s specific proposals on management and budgets, which we have enjoyed,will be published as soon as can complete it – we hope by early evening today, 10th February.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • So For Argyll on the smoochin again with Breslin! (in a platonic sort of way)

    How long will this gang of 3 last. Can they agree on a cup of tea, coffee or gin or will they morph into other parties and be”.. invigorating and challenging, if often impractical either operationally or, sadly, by being a universe away from the rub of the green in local politics whose death-dealing self interest and corrupting external party interferences is likely to see it kicked into touch.”

    Toilet roll for For Argyll

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 8

    No Cheese Here February 10, 2016 4:12 pm Reply
    • They’ve hung together longer than the official SNP group, although that’s nothing to shout about. I’ve no idea what Argyll & Bute SNP stand for, other than individual members being quoted in the press opposing/speaking in favour of this, that or the other; at least the Reform Group has some ideas beyond simply reacting to Walshian proclamations.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 7

      db February 10, 2016 4:59 pm Reply
    • NCH

      Have you read the Budget Proposals from the Reform Group?

      If so why can’t you come back with objective comment and analysis ,rather than your usual vacuous negative SNP bitchiness?

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 10

      RobTrythall February 10, 2016 5:49 pm Reply
  • Have I read what rob trythall. What FA put online the other day. ! Joke. 3 councillors don’t make a council.

    All 3 have jumped from 1 party to another or from independent to independent. This is a For Argyll PR job. Breslin pally with Russell. Russell pally with the owner of For Argyll. FACT
    I leave bitchiness to those that purr.

    SNP WIN THIS YEAR SNP WIN NEXT YEAR

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 12

    No Cheese Here February 10, 2016 7:22 pm Reply
    • NCH

      Manifestly you adopt Alex S’ response when you have nothing to offer discussion/debate ie ‘play the man, not the ball’

      FA have posted the Reform proposals , so read, comprehend and THEN comment.

      Re your conspiracy theory;- does this suggest a schism within the SNP is imminent?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

      RobTrythall February 11, 2016 8:49 am Reply
  • You really are a narrow-minded and subjective your mind is unwilling to understand any other viewpoint, blinkered. But you do understand that the entire Labour party is so fragmented that it has no chance of been a major player in either Scottish or UK politics for many years to come… the liberals are all but finished…the greens will only ever appeal to a small % of the UK’s population… the Tories north of the border are, in your opinion historically tainted and to coin your own phrase..BADD…. you find solice in the thought that the SNP will one day offer you some sort of ” hollywood” freedom from some sort of historic chip you carry on both shoulders ( the only actual balance in your personality)…. what you don’t actually grasp is that the policies of the SNP ( nationalism aside) are actually a re-vamp of the Tory policies that you have convinced yourself that you loath….you are screwed mate… the SNP has you well and truely in the yolk……..its quite hilarious…. LOL

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 11

    Karl Hughes February 10, 2016 8:33 pm Reply
    • “Narrow minded and subjective” It’s a big club Carol.LOL!!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 8

      Hugh Jazz February 10, 2016 8:38 pm Reply
  • The biggest failing of this article…..
    It should start with “once upon a time”
    .
    Breslin is not a team player, he needs his own party.
    My limited knowledge of Dance is, be wary but hopeful.
    I think her politics of care do come thru, how much that will follow? yes I am hopeful. She’s clever.
    I know almost nothing of Marshall.
    However…..
    the day before the major budget,” for argyll” targets the SNP opposition.
    .
    Dick Walsh and his bunch once again untouched, unchallenged or not held to account for anything. That mob could sit and read the “Racing Post” at council meetings and gamble away all Argyll and Bute’s finances and “for argyll” would find a way to blame the SNP opposition.
    What next, Donnie MacMillan or Jimmy McQueen for leading councillor posts of education and finance?
    According to “for argyll’s” logic they must be better than anyone the SNP can come up with or at least as long as they are in DICK’s camp nothing will be challenged.
    How much has Castle Toward cost the council in the last year?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 6

    KEITHO February 10, 2016 8:49 pm Reply
    • Would partly agree with Keitho on this one (deep breaths).

      Marshall is a nobody, Dance only cares about Dance and Breslin is a bit left field with some good ideas.

      Some of the suggestions were worth consideration when first proposed a few years ago. Unfortunately since then the SNP councillors, heartily supported by their online support, have demonstrated they care little for Argyll and Bute when the bigger picture is independence for Scotland.

      As a result Dick Walsh was able to regain the reigns again and we are where we are, completely stuffed.

      The budget is already signed off and arguably this sites perspective the focus is on the wrong area of personnel. If you want to influence Argyll and Bute’s future, discuss what type of person our ideal CEO would be.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 5

      John M February 10, 2016 9:25 pm Reply
      • John M
        If I may quote you
        ” Unfortunately since then the SNP councillors, heartily supported by their online support, have demonstrated they care little for Argyll and Bute when the bigger picture is independence for Scotland.”
        I completely disagree with that statement.
        Every SNP councillor elected cares for Argyll and Bute while also wishing for an Independent Scotland.
        I have posted on here before that the best talents elected should be used for the betterment of Argyll and Bute.
        I don’t believe excluding talented members with specialist talents because they don’t wear the right colours is letting down the people of Argyll and Bute.
        Who is strong enough to bite the bullet? Dick isn’t

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

        KEITHO February 10, 2016 10:53 pm Reply

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