Pressure mounts again on the leadership of Argyll & Bute Council after a new independent scrutiny report lifts the lid on a “compromised” buyout process which denied the South Cowal Community a fair chance to buy Castle Toward.
I received this on Friday afternoon – it went to all those who have offices or shops in Dunoon which are part of the BID scheme and therefore pay a supplement to their business rates.
I only post it because I have noticed again today the Council leadership railing against any criticism that is made of them.
The reality for me is that day in and day out my constituents bring to me problems caused by appalling management and dreadful leadership in an authority that is meant to serve us all.
Morale amongst staff is rock bottom (and there are some very good staff in the Council) and inevitably it leads to things like this – but some local businesses were very alarmed to get a threat of legal action which now turns out to have been issued in error.
The problems in Argyll & Bute certainly encompass manifest injustices like the attempted community buyout of Castle Toward. But they also compass lots of much smaller problems which arise because at the top the Council is not fit for purpose. That is what needs to change.
Following the incorrect issue of a number of reminders and penalty charges yesterday, Argyll and Bute Council have issued the following message to all Dunoon BID businesses affected by this error :
“It has come to our attention that Reminder Notices which should have been sent out on 15th June 15 advising you of your BID levy arrears for the current financial year were not, in actual fact issued. As a result, we have cancelled all recovery action including the 10% costs on all customers’ accounts which were affected and have advised Walker Love, Sheriff Officers accordingly. If you have not made payment, replacement Reminder Notices will be issued next week. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused.”
Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has revealed a sharp rise in the number of static gear conflicts reported to Marine Scotland and has called on the Scottish Government to ensure that new regulation is robust enough to tackle the problem.
Mr Russell asked a written Parliamentary Question in July about incidents involving conflict between static and mobile fishing gear and the Parliamentary Answer in the name of Richard Lochhead received yesterday reveals that incidents doubled between 2013 and 2014 and have risen steeply again this year.
In 2011 there were 24 incidents, in 2012 there were 62, in 2013 there were only 52 but last year there were 104 and by 17th July this year the number was already 74. If that trend continues the number this year might reach 200.
Commenting Mr Russell said:
“ I have frequent reports from constituents in the fishing industry about this problem. Good and responsible fishermen , using whatever gear, respect the rights of colleagues but there is small minority who inflict costly damage on others.
It is difficult for the police to secure effective prosecutions given there are rarely any witnesses but these figures of incidents reported to Marine Scotland reveal a growing problem which needs tackled.
Richard Lochhead has assured me that proposals arising out of the consultation earlier this year on gear conflict are due soon and they will need to be robust in order to tackle the issue, which is a public order one as much as a fishing one. The regulatory framework for the new MPAs is one area in which progress could be made quire speedily.”
The MSP for Argyll & Bute has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament criticising the proposed local government boundary changes for Argyll & Bute and calling upon local communities to submit objections to them by the 22nd of October.
Commenting on the motion Mr Russell said:
“These changes need to be opposed and it is regrettable that the current administration of Argyll & Bute Council has just rolled over and accepted them. In other places Councils are vigorously objecting to what is, in essence, a numbers game but one that can damage and divide communities.
I have spoken to a range of local organisations which want to object but the Council hasn’t even involved some of the councillors in the wards affected let alone the communities. Argyll & Bute is the only council to lose a complete ward and three councillors in total and of course that is in the greatest part due to the continuing depopulation of the area, something that the Council needs to tackle.
Many commentators have observed of late that Scotland has some of the largest local authorities in Europe with councillors having to represent too many people and too big an area. Those issues were much discussed at the “People’s Council” event in Oban in June and it was agreed that they lead to the type of distant and bad local government we see in Argyll & Bute.
However these latest proposals will actually make things worse by further diminishing the ability of councillors to know and represent their whole community thereby putting more power into the hands of unelected local government officers.
The issues of local communications , transportation and the pattern of settlement need to be prime considerations when boundary changes are considered. The wholly artificial boundaries of the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park have been given undue prominence in this review which has resulted , for example, in Kilmun being placed in the same ward as Faslane – a geographical and democratic nonsense.
In addition the changes in the Bute ward – which it is suggested should now take in much of western Cowal as well – have not found favour either on Bute or on the mainland and the Mid Argyll changes make that ward very difficult to represent, running as it would from Lochgilphead to Bridge of Orchy, but excluding Ardrishaig.
If Argyll & Bute Council won’t stand up for local communities, then communities will have to stand up for themselves. I have tabled a motion in the Parliament to draw attention to the issue and in September will be submitting an objection myself which I would be happy to share with community councils and others. “
The motion submitted to the Scottish Parliament today reads:
That the Parliament notes the changes to local government wards in Argyll and Bute that have been proposed by the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland in its 5th review; is concerned that Argyll and Bute Council has failed to fully consult its members regarding these changes, including members in wards adversely affected by them; regrets that the council’s current administration has apparently not offered any significant opposition to these changes; understands that the reason for these changes, which include the only loss of a full ward in Scotland, lie in the greatest part in the failure of the council to tackle effectively the depopulation of the area; urges communities affected to submit their views to the Local Government Boundary Commission before 22 October 2015; is particularly concerned at the loss of a ward in Cowal, the loss of three councillors from the current total of 36 in Argyll and Bute, the inclusion of parts of Cowal in the Lomond ward contrary to patterns of local communication, settlement and transportation, the inclusion of parts of Cowal in the Bute ward contrary to patterns of local communication, settlement and transportation, the change to ward boundaries in mid-Argyll contrary to patterns of local communication, settlement and transportation and what it considers the unnecessary focus on the boundaries of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, and calls on the commission to take more note in its recommendations of the desire by communities, particularly in rural areas, for geographical and community identity and solidarity rather than continue to emphasise parity in electoral numbers.
Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell – who represents more ferry routes than any other constituency MSP – has welcomed the Scottish Government decision to ensure that Blue Badge holders will be still be able to access reduced vehicle fares on the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) network from October 2015.
A new 25% discount for Blue Badge holders will be applied on Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) vehicle fares, which are also due to come into effect across the whole CHFS network at the start of the Winter timetable.The discount will be available on car, motorhome and motorbike fares.
In cases where the new discounted RET fares are more expensive than the previously available discount, the fares will be capped at the lower level. The discount will be open to both islanders and non-islanders that hold a Blue Badge.
Mr Russell said :
I have argued for RET since I lived in the Western Isles, more than thirty years ago. I am delighted that it was an SNP Government that finally introduced it. It has been beneficial to every area and that will be true for Bute , Cowal and Mull when they complete the roll out in October.
However more can be done and I welcome this initiative as well as the review of freight charges which is now underway.
I know that Derek Mackay as both Transport and Islands Minister wants our Islands and the attractions they offer to be as open and accessible as possible and this initiative will help both visitors and residents alike.
This is more evidence of the Scottish Government’s commitment to investing in our ferry services and continued support for the Island economies, something that is of particular importance in Argyll & Bute.”
Argyll & Bute Council is now having to monitor its own poor performance with regard to “unsightly” buildings according to papers submitted to the Bute & Cowal Area Committee last week.
A report from the “Area Property Action Group & Unsightly Buildings Committee” which consists of Council planning and development officers contains in an annexe a list of properties in Bute & Cowal which are causing concern. These include three properties owned by the Council itself – the Castle House Lodge, Dunoon, the Toy Library at the Grammar School and the Old Rothesay Academy.
The officers report reveals that planners are trying to get money just to make the Castle House water tight whilst noting that the Committee will need to continue to monitor the other two which it notes that the Council’s Estates office is “Marketing/dealing” .
Commenting on the report Mr Russell said :
“The Alice in Wonderland world of Argyll & Bute Council just gets more bizarre. Council Leader Dick Walsh assured me months ago that the Castle Lodge, which became roofless in early January, would be repaired. Now we discover that the Council’s own officials think it is at risk but don’t know where to get the money even to make it wind and watertight.
This is the first building that visitors see as they get off the ferry in Dunoon yet there appears to be no sense of urgency, and no resources, to put it right. To add insult to injury there have been at least two private sector offers for the building which the Council has refused but now we know the Council itself does not know what to do with it, and cannot afford to repair it.
The old Rothesay Academy is also in a prime sight and clearly visible from ferries arriving at the pier. The Council’s planners obviously think it is a problem but the Council’s Estates department – the department that completely mishandled the community bid for Castle Toward – continues to let it rot.
There is something very wrong at the top of Argyll & Bute Council as these reports show. But no doubt there will be yet another angry denial from Cllr Walsh and his administration who seem to see their crumbling fiefdom through very strongly rose tinted spectacles. It is time they took them off and realised the mess they are making – a mess that even Argyll & Bute’s own planning and development officials are now concerned about.”
Good meeting with Creative Scotland this afternoon regarding the Mull situation. This is the press release that is going out from Dawn Reade , chair of the Shadow Board. Much now depends on what the Board of COMAR decides to do later this week.
Following the meeting between the Chair of the ‘Shadow Board’ for COMAR, Dawn Reade and the Chief Executive of Creative Scotland Janet Archer held in Edinburgh this afternoon which was also attended by Iain Munro, Deputy Chief Executive of Creative Scotland and Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell the following joint statement was agreed :
“This was a positive and constructive discussion which continues the process of engagement between the Mull community and Creative Scotland.
Creative Scotland welcomes the strong commitment that the Mull community is showing to its cultural assets. Creative Scotland , the “Shadow Board” and COMAR all wish to see a solution to the present dispute which will restore local membership to the Board, rebuild confidence in the merged company and chart a way forward for COMAR which has the active support of the community.
To achieve these aims Creative Scotland recognises that the community wish the current Board and Management of COMAR to enter into discussion with the “Shadow Board” with the aim of appointing local directors to the Board of COMAR as a matter of urgency.
It was agreed that a further meeting be held on Mull at an early date.”
Speaking on behalf of the Shadow Board after the meeting Dawn Reade added :
This was a good discussion but I made it very clear to Creative Scotland , on behalf of the Shadow Board, that we require COMAR to suspend its restructuring plan and withdraw the redundancy notices. Once that has happened we can all work together to review the finances and plans of the company and find a better way forward.
We will be meeting COMAR later in the week after its Board has met to consider the situation and reflect on its own meeting with Creative Scotland last Friday. We hope for a positive outcome as a result of those deliberations.”
Commenting on the exam results which were given to thousands of young people across Argyll & Bute today local MP Brendan O’Hara and local MSP Michael Russell said:
Congratulations to all the young people across Argyll and Bute for achieving new records in this year’s exams. Attainment has gone up again locally this year, an indication that no matter how hard the task, Argyll & Bute’s students are keen to learn and keen to succeed.
We are very proud of the achievements of those who will build the future of Scotland . But even if you didn’t, this time, achieve the grades you wanted then don’t despair – you still have more chances ahead and you can turn this disappointment into an opportunity. Make sure you contact the SDS help line (on 0808 100 8000 ) at the earliest chance you get to discuss what might be possible for you.
Older people like us can take a lesson from these exams too. Young people have every bit as much grit and determination as their predecessors and deserve support and encouragement at every turn. We are, officially, the best educated country in Europe and it looks like we will keep that accolade because our young people are learning more than ever and passing more exams. That is great news.