Un­likely al­liance re­flects on year in power

Coun­cil’ s pact be­tween Labour and Tory high­lighted

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - LOCAL NEWS - BY JON HEBDITCH

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”

Pho­to­graph by Jim Irvine

UNITED: Coun­cil lead­ers Marie Boulton, Dou­glas Lums­den and Jenny Laing at Mar­ishall Col­lege in Aberdeen.

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