De­mand to abol­ish com­mu­nity coun­cils

The Arran Banner - - Front Page - Hugh Boag ed­i­[email protected]­ran­ban­

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.’

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