Peace set to break out in Argyll and Bute budget row?

Argyll and Bute Council's Lochgilphead HQ.
Argyll and Bute Council's Lochgilphead HQ.

After weeks of public and private criticism from both sides, there are signs that calmer waters may just lie ahead for Argyll and Bute Council’s leadership and the area’s SNP parliamentarians.

Talks were held in Lochgilphead on Friday as tensions continue to run high over the local authority’s Service Choices cuts proposals - but statements issued by both the council and the SNP trio of Michael Russell, Mike MacKenzie and Brendan O’Hara would appear to suggest a more constructive approach to the issue over the next few months.

The Service Choices consultation was launched online on October 30, and hard copies will be made available at council libraries and service points during the week beginning Monday, November 10.

Messrs Russell, MacKenzie and O’Hara were joined in the SNP delegation on Friday by Cllr Iain MacLean, the finance spokesperson for the council’s SNP group, with the council represented by leader Dick Walsh, Conservative group leader Gary Mulvaney, depute leader and Liberal Democrat group leader Ellen Morton, chief executive Sally Loudon and senior council officials.

Councillor Walsh said after the meeting: “Our discussions were very helpful and constructive and, most importantly, concluded with all of us agreeing that there are key areas where we can work together to secure the best possible outcome for Argyll and Bute.

“Of course there remain areas where we agree to disagree – but the most important outcome from today is that we are absolutely in agreement about what we can and will do together.

“Consensus like this is invaluable in these challenging times, and I very much appreciate the commitment from Michael, Mike and Brendan to work together on making a strong case for additional support for Argyll and Bute.

“What is also very welcome is their support on some of the significant issues which can really make a difference to our communities, like improved mobile connectivity, continuity of access through the lifeline A82 and A83 routes and reinforcing to everyone that Argyll and Bute is very much open for business.

“We have said many times that the key priorities of growing Argyll and Bute’s economy and population are challenges in which everyone has a part to play, and it is heartening that our local MSPs and MPs are committed to doing what they can to work together and offer their support. This will be welcomed wholeheartedly by Argyll and Bute Council.”

Michael Russell said afterwards: “The SNP delegation expressed their continued and complete opposition to the cuts proposals as issued by the council. These will harm some of the most vulnerable in Argyll and Bute and the process that has produced them has failed to address the key issues including continued depopulation and lack of planning for the present financial problems.

“The SNP gave notice that it will continue to bring forward alternatives and has asked the council to provide further financial information to allow it to develop its own plans. The council leader has undertaken to consider providing that information to the SNP.

“On a more positive note the SNP parliamentarians agreed to work with the council to look at ways in which a special case could be made to the Scottish Government regarding issues such as depopulation, island issues and poverty.”

Brendan O’Hara added: “This was in the end a positive meeting, and though the SNP remains firmly opposed to what is taking place in Kilmory, we do recognise that the council needs some degree of extra assistance, given some of the particular problems it is facing including depopulation. We will be doing our best to help the council administration express these problems clearly to Government.”

Mike MacKenzie said: “The issues of depopulation are particularly crucial in Argyll and Bute which is experiencing the worst such problem in Scotland and we were all at pains to urge the council to develop proposals that tackle these issues. We heard a great deal about capital projects, but the revenue shortfalls arise from the lack of people and the council needs to do much more to ensure growth within the area.”

Cllr MacLean concluded: “This was a more positive meeting than perhaps either side had expected although, the cuts proposals remain devastating and unacceptable.

“The agreement to find ways to develop the case that the council must make was a good one, and I look forward to working with the parliamentarians and the administration to produce something of value.”