Dunoon Councillor Michael Breslin has emailed a New Year greetings rocket to Douglas Hendry’s trained clone, Charles Reppke, Argyll and Bute Council’s adviser on law and governance.
Mr Breslin has asked for a response from Mr Reppke by 7th January and has let him know that he will publish that response [which will then be subject to expert and widespread scrutiny]. The Councillor also has made it clear that legal challenge is an option he has prepared himself to take, should he find the response unsatisfactory and demonstrating a case to be taken further.
The text of the Breslin to Reppke email
From: Breslin, Michael [mailto:Michael.Breslin@argyll-bute.gov.uk]
Sent: 29 December 2014 18:04
To: Reppke, Charles
Subject: P&R: Castle Toward
I assume it will be the 5th before you read this Charles so Happy New Year to you.
I have a couple of questions in relation to the above please:
1 The motion which was agreed and put forward by Cllr E Morton was altered from the original paper version given to members on the day. I was working on my amendment and didn’t hear what was, apparently, said. I have checked with others present and only one recalls that Ellen said the wording was a mistake and that instead of it saying interest would be deferred, she changed it to repayments would be deferred. You will know that there is a material difference between what was written and what I am told was said. Can you confirm please if she did say that the word repayments should replace the word interest?
2 If you do confirm that this was the case, can you explain why my proposed amendment on the same subject in June 14, Castle Toward, was deemed incompetent by you on the grounds that it didn’t mention the potential problem of a state aid challenge? You will recall that I immediately offered to add wording to the effect that state aid rules could not be breached but you ruled that my amendment had to be considered using the words offered, ie it could not be altered. If that was the case in June, why was the changed wording allowed to be competent in December?
3 Given the fact that it was crystal clear to anyone who had read the papers that a loan of £1m would not be acceptable, why was the motion deemed competent? You will again recall that I personally made the affordability issue clear on at least 2 occasions. I attach an email to all councillors that explains why this was not a feasible option under any circumstances. Your reply is awaited with interest Charles.
I should perhaps make clear now that your response will be made public and I hope to receive this no later than Wednesday 7 January. I might add that I am willing to take independent external legal advice, if necessary, and to challenge any decision if I feel I have grounds to do so.
Independent Councillor, Ward 7 Dunoon
At issue is the apparently discriminatory application by Mr Reppke of particular procedures that have long been used by officers at the council to gag and neuter councillors whose questions and propositions threaten to overturn the applecarts of predetermined outcome.
The device in question is judging procedurally incompetent any awkward motions and amendments submitted by independent or inconveniently campaigning councillors. As things stand, if the officer in question rules a motion or amendment unfit, the issue it seeks to raise is prevented from being put to the meeting for a vote.
In this case, back on 14th June 2014, Councilor Breslin proposed an amendment on approaches to the sale of Castle Toward to the South Cowal Community Development Company [SCCDC] which Mr Reppke had ruled incompetent – and had then, after Councillor Breslin suggested an amendment, ruled that no revision was possible, that the amendment would have to go ahead as it was currently worded but could not be carried as it had been judged incompetent.
In contrast, before the meeting on 18th December of the council’s Policy and Resources sub-committee, Deputy Leader ,Councillor Ellen Morton, circulated to those attending a motion she proposed to put to the meeting.
The motion she actually put had been altered in the meantime and was materially different in one key respect – the cost involved for SCCDC..
This meeting was supposed to be held in Ardrishaig but after the Christmas lunch, they kept it at Kilmory.
The acoustics in the chamber at Kilmory are poor – made worse by the microphones which blur what is being said and disguise the source of the voice.
Members were not clearly advised that the motion had been altered from the proposed one they had been shown beforehand. Councillor Breslin reports that only one councillor he asked remembered the Deputy Leader saying that the wording of the motion circulated before the start of the meeting had been ‘a mistake’; and that instead of proposing that the interest on the loan be deferred, she was now saying that the repayments on the loan would be deferred for three years.
Several councillors at the meeting did not aurally pick up the change in detail of the precise wording as Councillor Morton read out her motion – and raised no queries on a change of which they remained unaware. The Motion was passed by majority vote.
Councilor Breslin’s first concern is with the procedural integrity of the governance officer’s action in refusing to allow him – an opposition councillor – to revise a amendment for a meeting on 14th June; but who, six months later, allowed the Deputy Leader of the administration to change materially and submit to the meeting on 18th December a motion on the same subject – the detail of the price to be charged to a community company for a property the council has allowed to fall into substantial disrepair.
For the information of normal human beings, an ‘amendment’, in council terms, is effectively a counter motion.
The material change in the Deputy Leader’s motion
The wording of Point 8 of the motion Councillor Morton circulated immediately before the meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee proposed that the Committee agreed to charge SCCDC the full price determined at £1.75 million; but with a commercial loan of £1 million upon which there would be ‘an initial’ three year period, during which ‘interest’ on the loan would be ‘deferred’. This would however, add £157,625 to the accumulated capital debt in compound interest at that point.
The Morton motion as passed on 18th December, would see SCCDC make no repayments on the capital but only interest payments for each year of a three year period – which at 5% of a static loan of £1,000,000 would amount to £50,000 pa. At the end of that three year period, they would add to that basic £50,000 interest payment an agreed regular capital repayment sum against the full initial loan of £1 million.
We do not feel that the Morton motion – whatever it wanted to do and however it was worded, is competent in its precise expression of the financial detail of its intentions. In neither version does it state what it intends to happen to the element of the accumulated debt in which it it is not interested in the motion in question.
The first version mentions only deferred interested payment but makes no mention whatsoever of repayment on the initial capital loan.
The second version makes no mention of the interest, only the deferring of repayments.
This incomplete expression of exactly what is being proposed in either instance may mislead.
If Councillor Morton, for example, intended to levy on SCCDC the full price of £1.75 million – but to soften that arguably exploitive position by providing a commercial loan of £1 million – and levying NO interest on it for a three year period – that would not competently be expressed as ‘deferred’ interest, which means that compound interest would apply on an accumulating debt swollen by unpaid interest. This strategy would see the community company pay more to the council at the end of the day.
A very familiar control device
These governance officers’ pronouncements on the competence or not of a motion or an amendment are delivered from a position of familiarity with the arcane rules that govern such matters. Their rulings are never challenged. Most people can have no idea and little interest in the tortuous routines of such things and so have no option but to trust the professional integrity of officers who, too often, have been shown to be substantially less than straightforward in their dealings with elected members.
The judgment of incompetence on motions and amendments regularly and conveniently prevents specific positions and options being put before the chamber in the run up to decisive votes being taken.
There is every reason why it ought to be incumbent on specialist officers to assist an elected member to create a competent motion or amendment that would, if successful, bring about the precisely desired result.
It is unacceptable for a trained specialist officer just to examine draft motions or amendments from councillors who will not be trained to conceive of and specify their intentions in the prescibed way – and simply pronounce them fit to go – or not.
What else was going on with the Morton motion?
We had heard from several sources that before the Policy and Resources Committee meeting on 18th December, former Council Leader Roddy McCuish had said to Councillor Robert McIntyre from Bute, Chair of the Bute and Cowal Area Committee, that the meeting should just agree to the price SCCDC had asked to pay.
Having said this privately, Cuncillor McCuish then, unexpectedly, went on to second Deputy Leader Councillor Morton Ellen’s motion, requiring SCCDC to pay the £1.75 million it had made clear it could not pay – and which the council is very unlikely to achieve in the commercial market.
We asked Mr McCuish whether this narrative was correct or not – and that, if it was, what had governed both of these – conflicting – actions? We did not get an answer to this. The assumption has to be that the councillor was leaned on by some means to second the Morton motion. In a deeply macchiavellian council administration, it is probable that such pressure may have been applied as much to destroy Councillor McCuish’s credibility as to get the motion seconded.
There are plenty of administration councillors who do as they are told and would have fufilled this requirement.
However, it is profoundly disappointing that Councillor McCuish, whom we have always seen as an honourable man, has, for whatever reason, damaged his own reputation for straight dealing in this.
Councillor Breslin though is in hot pursuit of the errant McCuish, sending him the following email:
‘From: Breslin, Michael
Sent: 29 December 2014 16:01
To: McCuish, Roderick
Subject: FW: Castle Toward
Roddy, you will have seen my email below sent to the leader and his depute.
Given the fact that there were there 3 clear pointers to the fact that the SCCDC could not and would not take on a loan as now approved by P&R, I have some questions for you as a supporter of the motion:
1. Were you fully aware of the statement in the papers by SCCDC that such a loan wasn’t acceptable?
2. Some simple arithmetic applied to the figures in the papers would surely have alerted you to the scale of the financial problem SCCDC would have in taking on such a loan. Were you therefore fully aware of the consequences for the company if such a loan was approved and accepted?
3. You heard me say twice prior to the vote that such a loan would kill the project stone dead so what were your reasons for supporting the motion please?
4. Was there some pressure applied to you before the vote, eg were you asked to support the motion by the leader or the depute?
5. Is it true that you agreed to second Ellen’s motion if she and Dick would support some proposal you have for Rockfield School?
I would appreciate hearing from you by Wednesday 7 January. In the interests of accountability to the disappointed if not angry people in Cowal, your reply (or no reply) will be made public.
Independent Councillor, Ward 7 Dunoon’
All of this is part of the fallout of the alienations, the betrayals and the survivals of the pantomimic meltdown when the SNP tried to lead a coalition administration at Argyll and Bute Council after they were entrusted by the electorate to do so in May 2o12. Three successive SNP-led administrations [two of them Councillor McCuish’s in his will to see the SNP face up to its elected responsibilities] were undermined and subverted at every step by the party’s own NEC.
This was born of desperation to get this local SNP councillor group out of power as fast as possible lest, as rookies, they fouled up and prejudiced the indy vote in Argyll. It was an unedifying national spectacle the costs of which have been human as well as political – and will continue to run for some time.
Postscript: We would question the casual relocation of the meeting on 18th December, since it was one where there was a known issue as to whether or not it would be held in public. No decision had been given on this in advance of the meeting – the Council Leader famously prefers the drama of revealing his hand at the last minute. Consideration for the needs of the electorate are of far lower priority.
At the start of the meeting the Council Leader made it known that the session would be held in public.
But how would anyone willing to take a punt on getting in and turning up at the published location of Ardrishaig, have known that, at the last minute, the meeting had been rescheduled for Kilmory?
This outfit is incapable of thinking beyond its own convenience ;and forgets on a daily basis that, permanent officers or elected councillors, they are all public servants.