Category Archives: Argyll and Bute Council

Music Tuition in Schools

The MSP for Argyll & Bute Michael Russell has asked the Council Administration to cease charging for music tuition in schools during the school day after the Scottish Government confirmed in an answer to a Parliamentary Question that such charging was not permitted.

In a letter to the Lead Councillor for Education, Rory Colville Mr Russell said:

“I am sure the Council has inadvertently crossed the line on this matter but it is clear from this answer by John Swinney that there can be no charging for music tuition during the school day, no matter who is teaching the pupils.   Accordingly the Council will, I hope, cease such charging immediately and refund any charges paid by parents or carers which have been requested in such circumstances.

I know that this issue has been of concern to many families and I am sure they will be grateful to John Swinney and to the Council now that it is clear what the situation actually is.”

Commenting on the issue Mr Russell said

“The Council has, I am told by constituents, been charging for music tuition in school during the school day.   I thought that this had previously been declared to be contrary to the agreement between the Government and Councils and now that the issue has been clarified by John Swinney I am sure the Council will want to cease the practice immediately.  I look forward to hearing from Cllr Colville that such is the case.”

The answer to the Written Question, lodged before Mr Russell re-entered the Scottish Government, is as follows:

6 September 2016

Michael Russell (Argyll and Bute) (Scottish National Party): To ask the Scottish Government in what circumstances local authorities are allowed to charge for music tuition held in school during the normal school day as an option on the timetable.

S5W-02079

John Swinney:

It is the duty of every education authority to provide adequate and efficient provision of school education without payment of fees. An education authority may charge fees for the provision of an extra-curricular activity that it is not legally obliged to provide.

The Scottish Government considers music tuition in schools that takes place during the course of the school day to constitute ‘school education’. Regardless of who is teaching the pupils, such tuition should therefore be provided free of charge.

RUSSELL CONGRATULATES SALLY LOUDON ON APPOINTMENT TO COSLA

MSP urges Argyll & Bute Council to use CEO vacancy to drive major change.

 Speaking after the announcement of the appointment of Sally Loudon,  Chief Executive of Argyll & Bute Council as the new Chief Executive of COSLA Michael Russell the MSP for Argyll & Bute said:

 “I have already congratulated Sally on her new appointment and wish her well in it.   Local Government in Scotland is at a cross roads and the role of CEO is a crucial one at this time.  I hope she will take to COSLA a new view of how local government must be made more local, something that COSLA itself was discussing prior to the Referendum.

 The potential effect of this unexpected change on Argyll & Bute is one that the Council needs to consider carefully.   I would urge the Council Leader not to drive forward a quick new appointment but instead to work across the Council to seek radical new solutions to improve local democracy and save money. 

 I would be happy to work with him to draw up appropriate proposals for different management structures and decentralisation which have been the subject of local discussion across Argyll & Bute for some considerable time and which will also help the Council to meet the budgetary challenges with which it is presently struggling and about the effects of which there is huge public disquiet and concern.

 The way forward does not lie in implementing the so called “Service Choices” agenda which is seriously weakening the Council and the area but instead in reforming the Council itself and how it delivers services.  There is now a new chance to do so.  It is not to be missed.”

Refugee Press Conference

Refugees

I was pleased that Argyll & Bute Council asked me to take part in their press conference this morning in Rothesay which was intended to brief journalists from across Scotland (and further afield) about preparations for welcoming and housing the refugees who are due on the island soon.

It was a positive event at which Cleland Sneddon, the Council’s Executie Director for Community Services, outlined what had been done by the local authority and the tremendous and active support coming from the community. The CEOs of ACHA and Fyne Homes gives details of the practical arrangements that have been put in place and I spoke of the wider support across Cowal and Argyll & Bute and the contribution that the refugees would undoubtedly make to the area, and not least to the population which is dropping in both Rothesay and Campbeltown (where the next group of refugees will go).

RUSSELL WELCOMES COUNCIL U TURN ON “SPIN DOCTORS BEFORE SUPPORT TEACHERS” PLAN

Reacting to the withdrawal by the Argyll & Bute Council administration at today’s Policy & Resources Committee of the Council Leader’s desire to appoint two new spin doctors at a time when he is also proposing to cut millions of pounds which pay for vital Council services and lay off over 400 employees including staff who support the poorest and most disadvantaged school children, Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

 

“This is a welcome U turn from councillors which I hope might indicate that at last some are questioning the disastrous course being set by the Council Leader. 

 

The shameful prospect of appointing more spin doctors whilst considering how many support teachers should be laid off was clearly too much for most Councillors to stomach and I am sure that is why the administration had to withdraw it.     I hope those same councillors will now look questioningly at Walsh’s dreadful cuts proposals and recognise that there are much better alternatives to the callous and wholesale salami slicing that is being proposed

 

Walsh’s cuts would severely damage communities the length and breadth of Argyll  & Bute and cause huge hardship especially for the most vulnerable. They must be opposed by everyone who cares about the area.”

Submission to the Local Government Boundary Commission 5th Review

I have now submitted my comments on the Local Government Boundary Commission Proposals for Argyll & Bute  contained in their Fifth Review which include eliminating Cowal from the electoral map and creating a number of unwieldy and ill connected wards which are likely to decrease democratic accountability and increase the power of unelected  officials at Kilmory.   You can download my submission from the link below.

There has been widespread opposition to these proposals and communities  across Argyll & Bute are making submissions.

If anything in my own submission is helpful I am more than happy to see it used or quoted by those objecting.

The LGBCS Consultation portal can be found HERE and the submission period closes on 22nd October.

LGBCS – Comments on Argyll & Bute Proposals from Michael Russell MSP

Argyll & Bute Council’s Cuts Package “devastating and brutal” say Argyll & Bute’s Parliamentarians

Joint statement pledges support for those likely to be affected and calls for “cool heads and clear minds” to find a way out of crisis created by Council administration

 

In a joint statement on the “Service Choices” proposals which Argyll & Bute Council issued today as an appendix to a paper for next week’s Policy & Resources Committee, Argyll & Bute Constituency MSP Michael Russell, Argyll & Bute MP Brendan O’Hara and Highland Regional MSP Mike MacKenzie have commented as follows:

 

“These are a devastating and brutal set of proposals, which have been slipped out hidden away in a mass of other Council papers rather than openly presented to local people.

 

We agree with the Trades Unions that if these cuts were to go ahead they would render the Council not only unable to meet its core commitments but also unable to fulfil its statutory duties.

 

Today the Council leadership has presented to the people of its area a bleak picture of their future – one in which children in most need will get the least help, in which the streets go uncleaned, in which lollipop men and women, music instructors, janitors , classroom helpers, librarians and special needs assistants are all cast on the scrap heap, in which slower not faster broadband is provided in schools, in which museums close and Council services get worse and more expensive, in which charities providing essential help to the most vulnerable cannot survive, in which it costs more and more to be buried or cremated, in which refuse goes uncollected and grass uncut and in which even the Christmas lights are switched off.

 

These plans make a special mockery of the repeated pledge by Council Leader Dick Walsh that reversing depopulation was his number one priority.  In reality these proposals will, by the Council’s own admission result in up to 1000 jobs being lost over the next few years.  This area has very few employment alternatives available so depopulation will get even worse.

 

The so called “service choices” process was meant to provide a new start by re-imagining the way in which the Council helped the people of the area.  Instead what has appeared after months of secretive meetings is a desperately cobbled together list of random but very damaging salami slices of essential council services.

 

It also beggars belief that a Council of any sort could on the one hand be appointing new staff to posts in Education Management and Strategic Transport whilst at the same time proposing to lay off Special Needs Assistants, Music Instructors, School Librarians, and janitors.  That approach shows a casual and callous disregard for the most vulnerable.  It also shows how ill thought out these “choices” are, with no co-ordination between Council departments in the scramble to find cuts.  For example Dunoon Grammar School is presently advertising for a full time “Attendance Officer” the Council is proposing to get rid of all such employees.  That is simply one of the chaotic and contradictory elements in the package.

 

The Tory Government  at Westminster  has created financial difficulties for  the Scottish Government and every Scottish public body .  The Scottish Government has fully funded the Council tax freeze as new figures confirmed this week and has done its very best to support local government spending.   Argyll & Bute has in response done nothing to prepare its services for change , has failed to meet its core objectives and has mismanaged its resources .  What is now being proposed is the outcome of that abject failure.

 

We can confirm that the SNP will be working to support local people and council employees threatened by this appalling, destructive process .   We are glad that the trades unions have taken such a strong stance and we are keen to work with them and many others to develop a new vision for Argyll & Bute, something that is now urgently required.

 

What is now obvious is that we will all need cool heads and clear minds to find a way forward for Argyll & Bute after the mess that Dick Walsh and his administration have made. He and those supporting him have placed the council in severe jeopardy and those who live the Council area in desperate fear of the future. They should hang their heads in shame.”

Link to cuts information:  http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/moderngov/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=544&MId=6816&Ver=4

BID Scheme

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.

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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.”

Boundary Changes “need opposed” says Russell as he tables Parliamentary motion criticising them.

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. “
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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.

Council “keeping an eye” on itself as buildings crumble

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.”

MSP gives backing to independent investigation of Argyll and Bute Council

PETITION RAISED BY ARGYLL AND BUTE RESIDENTS TO BE SUBMITTED TO COUNCIL

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell has given his backing to an online petition demanding a full and independent investigation into allegations of bullying and intimidation at Argyll and Bute Council.

The petition, started by Trevor and Susan Chandler of the Castle Toward Supporters Group, calls for an investigation “of, among other things, a culture of bullying and intimidation of staff, past and present within Argyll and Bute Council.” The petition has amassed over 2000 signatures on the campaign website 38 Degrees.

On hearing of the allegations, first published by Common Space in February, Mr Russell wrote to the Chief Executive of the Council, Sally Loudon, asking her to investigate. However she has refused to do so.

Continue reading MSP gives backing to independent investigation of Argyll and Bute Council