MSP joins Argyll and Bute boundary change critics

Proposed new ward boundaries for Argyll and Bute would lump Bute in with all of west Cowal to the south of Strachur.
Proposed new ward boundaries for Argyll and Bute would lump Bute in with all of west Cowal to the south of Strachur.

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell has joined the growing ranks of those criticising plans to change council ward boundaries in the area.

But as well as criticising the proposals themselves, Mr Russell has accused Argyll and Bute Council of failing to stand up for the local communities which will be affected by the changes.

The Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland wants to reduce the number of Argyll and Bute councillors from 36 to 33 and, among much else, create a single ward covering Bute and a large swathe of the western part of Cowal from 2017 onwards.

Mr Russell - who has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament criticising the proposals - said: “These changes need to be opposed and it is regrettable that the current administration of Argyll and Bute Council has just rolled over and accepted them.

“In other places Councils are vigorously objecting to what is, in essence, a numbers game but one that can damage and divide communities.

“I have spoken to a range of local organisations which want to object but the council hasn’t even involved some of the councillors in the wards affected let alone the communities.

“Argyll and Bute is the only council to lose a complete ward and three councillors in total and of course that is in the greatest part due to the continuing depopulation of the area, something that the council needs to tackle.

“Many commentators have observed of late that Scotland has some of he largest local authorities in Europe with councillors having to represent too many people and too big an area.

“Those issues were much discussed at the ‘People’s Council’ event in Oban in June and it was agreed that they lead to the type of distant and bad local government we see in Argyll and Bute.

“However these latest proposals will actually make things worse by further diminishing the ability of councillors to know and represent their whole community thereby putting more power into the hands of unelected local government officers.

“The issues of local communications, transportation and the pattern of settlement need to be prime considerations when boundary changes are considered.

The wholly artificial boundaries of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park have been given undue prominence in this review which has resulted, for example, in Kilmun being placed in the same ward as Faslane - a geographical and democratic nonsense.

“In addition the changes in the Bute ward - which it is suggested should now take in much of western Cowal as well - have not found favour either on Bute or on the mainland, and the Mid Argyll changes make that ward very difficult to represent, running as it would from Lochgilphead to Bridge of Orchy, but excluding Ardrishaig.

“If Argyll and Bute Council won’t stand up for local communities, then communities will have to stand up for themselves.

“I have tabled a motion in the Parliament to draw attention to the issue and in September will be submitting an objection myself which I would be happy to share with community councils and others.”

* The motion submitted to the Scottish Parliament on Friday reads:

That the Parliament notes the changes to local government wards in Argyll and Bute that have been proposed by the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland in its 5th review; is concerned that Argyll and Bute Council has failed to fully consult its members regarding these changes, including members in wards adversely affected by them; regrets that the council’s current administration has apparently not offered any significant opposition to these changes; understands that the reason for these changes, which include the only loss of a full ward in Scotland, lie in the greatest part in the failure of the council to tackle effectively the depopulation of the area; urges communities affected to submit their views to the Local Government Boundary Commission before 22 October 2015; is particularly concerned at the loss of a ward in Cowal, the loss of three councillors from the current total of 36 in Argyll and Bute, the inclusion of parts of Cowal in the Lomond ward contrary to patterns of local communication, settlement and transportation, the inclusion of parts of Cowal in the Bute ward contrary to patterns of local communication, settlement and transportation, the change to ward boundaries in mid-Argyll contrary to patterns of local communication, settlement and transportation and what it considers the unnecessary focus on the boundaries of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, and calls on the commission to take more note in its recommendations of the desire by communities, particularly in rural areas, for geographical and community identity and solidarity rather than continue to emphasise parity in electoral numbers.

FURTHER INFORMATION FROM ; Michael Russell 01369 702011