'Good news for local democracy' says council leader

The Scottish Goverment has rejected a recommendation which would have seen the number of councillors and wards in Argyll and Bute cut.
The Scottish Goverment has rejected a recommendation which would have seen the number of councillors and wards in Argyll and Bute cut.

The decision by the Scottish Government not to accept a recommendation by the Local Government Boundary Commission to reduce the number of councillors and wards in Argyll and Bute is good news for local democracy says the Council Leader.

Leader of Argyll and Bute Council, Dick Walsh's comments come after Ministers said they were aware of strong local concerns expressed about the recommendations and the impact they would have on local communities.

The recommendation, had it been approved, would have seen Bute's three councillors also having to represent Colintraive, Glendaruel, Tighnabruaich, Portavadie and most of west Cowal from 2017 onwards. The number of councillors in Argyll and Bute would also have been cut from 36 to 33.

Cllr Walsh said: “We previously stated that reducing the number of councillors in Argyll and Bute would reduce our communities’ access to a local councillor and strongly opposed the proposed ward changes in our submission to Local Council Boundary Commission.

“Argyll and Bute has 23 inhabited islands and the second largest mainland of all of Scotland’s 32 Council areas. There was a real concern that any changes would make it difficult for communities to be represented due to the challenges posed by travel and the lack of regular public transport links.

“I am pleased that these representations have been listened to by Ministers.”

The Council made representation on the complexity of representing rural and island communities and believed the proposals would increase this challenge.

Councillor Walsh concluded: “Argyll and Bute is one of the country’s most promising areas and the Council is working hard to attract people and businesses with initiatives such as our Rural Resettlement Fund.

“Ensuring there are no changes to Argyll and Bute’s boundaries or number of elected members and the proposed Islands Bill will secure proper representation for our communities in the future.”

Argyll and Bute MSP, Michael Russell, also welcomed the news. He said: "I am delighted that Joe Fitzpatrick, the Scottish Government Minister charged with considering these matters, has rejected in their entirety the proposals from the Local Government Boundary Commission.

"The majority of changes suggested by the Commission in other places have been approved which makes this decision all the more important. It has happened not just because the proposals were deeply flawed and completely impractical but also because politicians and communities across the area fought a united campaign.

"Sandy Taylor, the SNP Group Leader on Argyll and Bute Council organised a letter signed by virtually every councillor, no matter of what political affiliation, and I was pleased to be joined in my formal protest to the Government by Tory, Labour and Green MSPs from the Highlands. Many community councils made their opposition known to the Government as well.

"Next year's council elections will now be held on the existing ward boundaries but that does not mean no change. The Scottish Government is committed to more decisions being made in communities and to an islands bill which will empower many places in Argyll and Bute.

"This decision respects local democracy and is an example of elected members listening to those they serve. We need to see more of that in the current political leadership of Argyll & Bute Council itself, and that desire for a fresh start will be a key issue in next year's local election contest."