A WAR of words has broken out among members of Argyll and Bute Council after a meeting of the full council at Kilmory last week which lasted all of eight minutes.
Opposition councillors have accused the authority’s ruling administration of wasting time and money by pressing ahead with last Thursday’s meeting – a charge countered by the council’s depute leader, who has suggested that the meeting might have been deliberately kept as brief as possible so that opposition members could attack the ruling administration.
Helensburgh and Lomond councillor George Freeman, who leads the opposition Argyll and Bute Independent Councillors group, was held up en route to Lochgilphead and arrived seven minutes after the meeting started – and just as the last item, a motion he and fellow opposition councillor James Robb had submitted regarding funding for a new swimming pool in Helensburgh, was ruled incompetent by Provost Billy Petrie.
A further agenda item, this one put forward by the opposition Argyll First group, was withdrawn shortly before the meeting got under way.
Councillor Freeman said arrangements should have been made to move the date of the meeting to minimise the cost to the public purse.
“At a time when money is tight, it is unacceptable that councillors are asked to travel to Lochgilphead from all over Argyll and Bute with substantial travel costs being incurred and, for those councillors who have to travel from remote island communities, overnight hotel costs being incurred,” he said.
“Apart from the cost, there is also the total waste of travel time incurred going back and forward. I spent more than two and a half hours travelling to and from the meeting, and many councillors would have had longer journeys than me.”
The authority’s depute leader, Helensburgh Lib Dem councillor Ellen Morton, said other meetings had been held during the course of the day – and accused opposition councillors of having “ failed totally to exercise properly their scrutiny role” by not asking questions of the items which were on the agenda.
“If I were a suspicious, cynical person,” Cllr Morton continued, “I might think that the motions were submitted and then withdrawn, and that no questions were asked to deliberately make the meeting brief, just so that this attack on the council administration could be launched.
“However no responsible group of councillors would dream of wasting taxpayers’ money like this, so that cannot possibly be the reason. Can it?”
All three Bute councillors attended Thursday’s meeting, with the island’s two SNP councillors, Robert Macintyre and Isobel Strong, travelling to and from Lochgilphead together in Cllr Macintyre’s car as part of their regular car-sharing arrangement.
Councillor Macintyre – who leads the opposition SNP group and is the only opposition member of the council’s Executive, which takes many of the authority’s strategic decisions – told The Buteman he believed the motion by Councillors Freeman and Robb was “well worthy of consideration”, and said he believed pressure had been put on the Provost to declare it incompetent.
“There are items dealt with by the Executive which I believe should be debated and decided by the full council,” Cllr Macintyre said.
“In my view the Executive is totally undemocratic – it has 14 members and, since the death of Cllr ‘Skye’ Macintosh in November, I am the only member of the Executive which is not part of the ruling administration.”