Unlikely alliance reflects on year in power
Council’ s pact between Labour and Tory highlighted
Aberdeen’s council leaders have hailed the progress they have made since taking control of the city 12 months ago – despite facing a rocky road to gaining power in the townhouse.
The previously dominant Aberdeen Labour group lost eight seats in last May’s election, while the SNP and Conservatives surged ahead winning 19 and 11 respectively.
But, with the SNP group ruling out any pact with the Tories, and the Liberal Democrats insisting they would not join any alliance, the nationalists were forced to look to their bitter city rivals Labour to get a majority.
However, the talks came to nothing and, amid acrimonious exchanges, the Tories, led by new councillor Douglas Lumsden, and Labour joined forces with the independent group – which had recruited former Liberal Democrat Jennifer Stewart – to gain an allimportant single member majority.
The nine Labour councillors were subsequently suspended from representing the party as councillors and have since stood under the banner Aberdeen Labour.
But council leaders insisted that much had been achieved in the last year, despite the controversy over Labour’s pact with the Tories.
They pointed to the progress on the £250 million city region deal, the bond issue on the stock exchange and planned revamps of Union Terrace Gardens, investment in new schools, an ambitious council housing strategy, the art gallery and the £333 million new AECC being built as part of an ambitious “cultural strategy”.
Following the deal, the traditional kirking of the council ceremony, where councillors walk along Union Street to St Nicholas Church, was met with protests.
Conservative Tom Mason then, unexpectedly, won a seat as a north-east MSP at the Holyrood elections while his party colleague Brett Hunt was promoted within the oil industry and is regularly outside the country.
However, Aberdeen Labour group leader Jenny Laing said that with 80% of council revenue now generated from business rates and council tax, more powers needed to be given to the city from Holyrood to boost the economy.
She added: “As a Labour group, we stood for election on a manifesto with 15 pledges on it and it was important that whoever we worked with ensured those pledges were delivered.
“From our perspective, it is about ensuring the prosperity of Aberdeen ...it is about investing in the people who are currently here and those who will come in the future.
“I think the people of Aberdeen want to see delivery and I think we have achieved that over the last year and I know we are committed to making sure we deliver in the next four years as well.”
Independent group leader Marie Boulton claimed that some of the multimillion-pound projects were paying off and that people had “changed their tune” on the controversial Marischal Square project.
She said: “The previous five years have seen a real transformation in the city.
“We have often said through the masterplan that it is not just about buildings and infrastructure, it’s about how we use and promote our city. There was a lot of condemnation (over Marischal Square) but we took a difficult decision and we understood that we needed to create an income for the city.
“I have had a lot of people offer me apologies, because we did say at the time ‘wait and see’ and now I think it is a real asset to the city and a testament to this administration that we are prepared to take difficult decisions.”
Looking ahead, the administration sees challenges in diversifying the city’s economy away from oil and gas and retaining young talent in the city.
But Mr Lumsden believes it is an “exciting time” to be in Aberdeen pointing to the coming developments.
He said: “I think, as three groups, we have worked really well together for the good of the city.
“One of the main achievements has been something we haven’t done – and that’s make cuts to services.”
“I think the people of Aberdeen want to see delivery”
UNITED: Council leaders Marie Boulton, Douglas Lumsden and Jenny Laing at Marishall College in Aberdeen.