Disappointment as bid to increase area committee meetings fails

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An attempt to have local area committees in Argyll and Bute meet more often has been voted down.

South Kintyre independent councillor Donald Kelly, of the Argyll First group, put forward a proposal that the council’s four area committees should meet six times a year rather than four.

But the ruling group of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and some independent councillors, disagreed and voted to keep the schedule which applied during the last council, with area committees meeting every three months.

The area committees are made up of the councillors for each administrative area of Argyll and Bute – Mid Argyll, Kintyre and the Islands; Bute and Cowal; Helensburgh and Lomond; and Oban, Lorn and the Isles. They meet in March, June, September and December.

Councillor Kelly made the plea for more regular meetings at a full council meeting on Thursday May 19, at the council’s first meeting since the elections two weeks earlier.

He said: ‘The reason I brought this forward at this stage of the new council is that I feel it is important that we give constituents every opportunity to have a strong voice in their particular area.

‘Members are elected to represent their community and the best way to do that is through the area committee. It provides a strong voice for the community and, as it stands, quarterly meetings do not have the continuity to take things forward.

‘I feel quite strongly that we should at least go to bi-monthly meetings to represent our communities to the best of our ability.’

Kintyre and the Islands Liberal Democrat councillor Robin Currie, the council’s leader, who had previously spoken of his desire for all councillors to work together by sharing their thoughts and aspirations, replied: ‘I meant what I said – I want to engage with everybody, and I think [deputy leader] Councillor Gary Mulvaney meant the same.

‘But I don’t think the way to do that is to have more area committees. People on Colonsay or Coll, or wherever, are not going to say: “We are having more area committees, we are going to engage more”.

‘I am really serious when I say that I hope in the next few weeks, both the chief executive [Pippa Milne] and I can go out into communities, speak to people and get their views.

‘Not just ordinary people, but reach out to people we don’t usually hear from. I think that is the way to engage, to listen, and hopefully the priorities of the communities become priorities for the council.’

The recommendations of a short life working group for political management arrangements were then carried by 19 votes to 15.

Councillor Kelly told the Courier: ‘I am extremely disappointed that the council failed to support my request. Area committees are a vital cog in the democratic process and allow councillors to discuss and take forward local issues which affect our constituents.

‘Any councillor worth his salt, who is sincere about serving his local community, should, in my opinion, have supported my amendment.’

Fellow South Kintyre councillor John Armour, of the SNP, who supported Councillor Kelly’s bid, said: ‘I fully support the proposal for more area committee meetings.

‘Practically all candidates in the recent council elections said local accountability was a priority so why anyone would vote against this is beyond me.

‘Having area meetings bi-monthly, rather than every three months, would be a step along the road to where local decisions can be made by local members for the good of the local community.’

Conservative councillor Tommy Macpherson, South Kintyre’s third representative, voted in favour of keeping the meetings to four times a year, rather than Councillor Kelly’s proposed amendment.

He said: ‘The SNP in Holyrood cut £250 million from the local authority’s budget. There are likely to be further year-on-year cuts coming.

‘We have community councils, parent teacher associations and ward councillors. How do you justify the additional cost, when we have local issues local, priorities aplenty – health and social care, cancelled bus routes, potholes, roads without lining, damaged bins, dog fouling – all needing focused attention, not forum debate.’