Demand to abolish community councils
A war of words broke out this week after an Arran councillor called for the abolition of community councils.
Conservative councillor Timothy Billings said he wanted to see the statutory bodies scrapped and their roles absorbed into the locality partnership structure.
His call came at a full meeting of North Ayrshire Council last Wednesday and just days after Arran Community Council chairman Bill Calderwood had sharply criticised locality partnerships, as reported in last week’s Banner. He said the new community engagement structure was ‘dysfunctional’ and unrepresentative.
But the tables were turned when, during a review of local governance, councillor Billings put foward an amendment to ‘disolve community councils and incorportate their roles within appropriately constituted locality partnerships’, it was seconded by Constervative Councillor Tom Marshall, who represents the North Coast and Cumbraes.
Deputy provost Robert Barr responded by suggested the council ‘do away with’ locality partnerships and keep the community councils.
‘They are abysmal and sometimes too political for my liking,’ he added.
Councillor Donald L Reid said: ‘All community councils in North Ayrshire will be shocked this has even been proposed. It really is a slap in the face to them. We should value the work done by these volunteers because they really are right at the heart of the community.’
The chairwomen of the Arran locality partnership, SNP councillor Ellen McMaster, speaking during the debate, said: ‘First I’d like to say Arran Community Council have been very slow, four and a half years slow, to realise and accept the reality of their role on the locality partnership.
‘But I’d be first to defend their role as an important level of local democracy and a conduit into community empowerment. It’s about educating the people that are on the community council what their powers and responsibilities are.’
At the vote the amendment was rounded defeated by 24 votes to five.
However, an unrepentant councillor Billings, who was elected to represent the Ardrossan and Arran ward in May of last year, said there needed to be a ‘total rethink’ about community representation and responsibilities.
‘A new community-based body comprising directly elected community representatives as well as those from community services such as emergency services, health and care - should be given decision-making powers, as well as the financial responsibility, to plan and organise a range of local services.
This should include community councils, that have no specific powers, and locality partnerships that are opaque in how they operate. This two-tier system doesn’t truly represent the community, and does not have the accountability to be given money-spending responsibilities.
He added: ‘this is an opportunity to recognise the dedication and commitment that is shown by those who sit on Community
Conservative Councillor Timothy Billings.
Councils and Locality Partnerships, by bringing them together in to one democratic, transparent and accountable body placed at the heart of each community. By giving that body decision-making powers along with the money needed, it can take decisions that will make real differences to the lives of the people in their communities.’
However, SNP portfolio holder for economy and communities, councillor Alan Hill, disagreed. He said: ‘Once again, North Ayrshire Tory glaikitness shines through and they don’t even know it.
‘How would local communities be helped by removing community councils, who meet monthly, are at the heart of communities and are open to all, and absorbing them within Locality Planning Partnerships? How would they be able to meet? How many people would be able to be on them? How would they be able to do their work?
‘Most importantly, why are the Tories seeking to diminish the voices of communities across North Ayrshire? If there is a discussion to be had about how Community Councils can operate more effectively, let’s have the discussion with them and support them.’
And fellow SNP councillor for Kilwinning Scott Davidson added: ‘Community Councils are provided for in statute and are entirely independent from the local authority. Rest assured any further disgraceful and despicable attacks on our community councils, locality partnerships or communities at all, will be met with absolute brick wall resistance, and the contempt they deserve.’