MEET THE MAN WHO’S IN CHARGE OF EV­ERY­THING FROM BINS TO BUD­GETS

Paisley Daily Express - - Front Page - Ali­son Ren­nie

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

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