MEET THE MAN WHO’S IN CHARGE OF EVERYTHING FROM BINS TO BUDGETS
With 27 years experience as a local councillor, you’d be hard pushed to find someone more experienced for the job of Renfrewshire Council leader than Iain Nicolson.
The friendly 55-year-old from Inchinnan was chosen by the SNP group to lead their minority administration after last month’s election.
He admits it’s a role he’s relishing – but not one he ever aspired to.
He said: “In politics you do get a lot of people who aim to be somewhere. I never aimed to be an MP or an MSP, and I didn’t aim to be leader of the council.
“It’s just one of those things that happen in life. We did secure the largest party, but there were only a few of us who were existing councillors.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for myself on a personal level. I’m so grateful to my colleagues who thought I was suitable for the post.
“I love representing my constituents in Erskine and Inchinnan, and to my mind this is a bigger constituency to look after and represent.
“My job is to represent Renfrewshire everywhere I go to the best I can.
“I’ve got the support of a great team in administration and the staff.”
At the council elections last month, the SNP won 19 seats – not enough for an overall majority.
Talks with other parties on a coalition failed, so the group is going ahead as a minority administration, which Iain admits will have its challenges.
He said: “We’re very conscious of the fact we are in a minority. Renfrewshire’s political reputation has always been a bit tribal but that’s almost been rejected by voters. We’ll have to be more collegiate in the way we work.
“For anything of significance that I feel might require to have discussions and cross- party support, we will have to engage. We will have to deal with any issues before they go to council.
“It will lead to a more stable council agenda. It doesn’t remove the politics from it but in Renfrewshire, well over 95 per cent of decisions are noncontentious.
“It’s an interesting dynamic we’ve not experienced before.”
Grandad- of- f o u r Ia i n joined the SNP when he was just 17, inspired by political conversations with his late grandmother. He was 28 when he was first elected to Renfrew District Council in 1990 – the youngest councillor at the time.
Enjoying his political role but not so much his day job in outdoor advertising, Iain chose to stay at home and raise his five children – Ruairidh, twins Caol and Morven, Torran and Niamh – while his wife Fiona went back to work.
And it’s something he’s never regretted.
“We had five children all at primary school and I loved every minute of it,” he said.
“I think more men should experience the day-in, day-out of looking after children and the house. The relationship I have with my kids now is fantastic, the bond is far stronger.
“I remember working one night and the twins phoned me at 9.30pm to say ‘night night Daddy’ and I thought there was something wrong there.
“As the children became older and more independent in high school, I spent more time at the council and looking after the house.”
The Nicolson family was struck by tragedy in 2004 when Morven died suddenly from a brain haemorrhage, aged just 16.
Iain said: “Whenever I hear of families losing their children I know exactly what they’re going through. It re-flips your brain. What you thought was important in life suddenly wasn’t any more.
“We still talk about her and remember her. She’s still a part of the family.”
The loss of Morven inspired her dad to go back to university.
Iain said: “She was just about to go to university at the time and I thought if she couldn’t go, I would go for her.
“I went to Reid Kerr and did an access course in construction management and practice then went on to Glasgow Caledonian University and did environmental management and planning, then at the same uni I did a European law degree. I stopped about five years ago – that was enough.”
Iain went on to work for the charity Quarriers, doing environmental, planning and energy efficiency for their properties.
So it’s perhaps no surprise then that a key priority for the new SNP administration is the environment.
He’s set aside £250,000 which will kickstart a campaign to help communities clean up their neighbourhoods with support from the council.
“One of our priorities is providing all the communities of Renfrewshire with a clean environment,” he said.
“Our previous administration ran the very successful Cleaner Renfrewshire campaign but over the last five years the decision was made to remove a lot of it.
“Over the next six months we’ll build up a programme involved in cleaning our main streets and roads and supporting communities with projects they have. We hope it will generate a lot of goodwill again in the communities and make people proud of where they live.
“It ties in with the City of Culture bid as well. If Paisley is pitching to be City of Culture then people will expect, as a basic ask, that the streets are clean.”
Iain is adamant h i s administration will back all the good work done by the Paisley 2021 City of Culture bid so far.
“We see the value in the City of Culture bid and we appreciate the amount of hard work that’s been put into it by the local community groups and council staff,” he said.
“We have every intention to carry on with the bid, it has always had cross-party support.”
One Labour project the administration has its doubts about, however, is the proposed £15m sports village and outdoor area in Ferguslie Park.
He said: “We’ve asked council officers to go and have another look at this project and see if there’s another way to do what we want to do, but possibly in a different location.
“It’s a lot of money, around £ 8million of council funds, and we want to make sure the decisions we make are based on solid and sound reasons.”
Balancing the council books is a tough task and one made more difficult by Scottish Government grant cuts, Iain said.
“The Scottish Government will have to face up, they can’t keep squeezing local government. Police Scotland is a bottomless pit, the NHS is a bottomless pit. Local government needs to be properly resourced if they want us to keep delivering services.
“People want their bins emptied, streets cleaned, schools open and swimming pools run.
“Every opportunity I get to badger my colleagues in the Scottish Government I’ll do it.
“That’s my job. At the end of the day. I’m elected for Renfrewshire.”
With fixed council terms, Iain should expect to serve as leader for the next five years.
So what does he hope to have achieved by 2022?
“At the end of my five years, I hope to have run an efficient and well-managed council,” he revealed.
“I hope I will have made all the right decisions for the majority of people – but you can never keep everybody happy.”
I’ve got the support of a great team in administration and the staff
Working together Iain and Provost Lorraine Cameron