Concern over planned changes to council ward boundaries in Argyll and Bute has spilled over into a war of words between the council leader and the area’s MSP.
As we’ve reported over the last few weeks, the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland wants to cut the number of councillors in the area, and to re-draw most of the current ward boundaries.
One of its proposals is that Bute should no longer be a council ward in its own right, but should be combined with a large swathe of the Cowal peninsula, including Colintraive, Glendaruel, Tighnabruaich, Portavadie, Kilfinan and Otter Ferry, from 2017 onwards.
Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament which, as well as criticising the proposals themselves, accused Argyll and Bute Council of failing to offer any significant opposition to the changes.
That has provoked an angry response from council leader Dick Walsh, who has written to all the community councils in the Bute and Cowal area setting out his, and the council’s position - and accusing Mr Russell of being “increasingly desperate” to attack the local authority “at any cost”.
Councillor Walsh says in his letter: “I note that Michael Russell MSP has issued a statement on Facebook on Friday afternoon about the proposed Boundary Commission changes to local wards. I know that local community councils are very interested in this issue. Because of that it is important for people to know the council’s true position and, more importantly, the facts, because the motion that Mr Russell has submitted is inaccurate.
“I find it regrettable that yet again, Mr Russell has chosen to perpetuate misinformation and inaccuracies in what can only be seen as his increasingly desperate attempts to attack Argyll and Bute Council in any way, shape or form and at any cost.
“If Mr Russell looks at the Local Government Boundary Commission’s website he will find a copy of the council’s response to the ward proposals, dated 16th June 2015 and clearly stating that we are opposed to the proposed structure presented by the Commission [Ed - the direct link is here].
“Our response mentions our significant concerns about the Boundary Commission’s plans, in particular the impact on our communities who will be adversely affected and are likely to share those concerns. It must surely be a matter of some embarrassment to him that he did not check the council’s factual response first in his haste to criticise.
“Should he check the same web page, he will find the council’s response to the earlier phase of the Boundary Commission review on councillor numbers, which took place in 2014.
“There, he will see that once again, the council opposed the proposals to reduce councillor numbers in Argyll and Bute. The only assumption possible is that he is so determined to launch another needless and unfair attack on the council that he overlooked these facts.
“The facts are that the council established a cross-party group of councillors, including members from the SNP group, to consider and prepare a response to the Boundary Commission consultation.
“The members of the cross-party group were unanimous in opposing the proposals and worked together on the council’s formal response. This is a matter of fact and more details can be found in a report due at our Policy and Resources Committee on 20th August [Ed - click here to read the report].
“It continues to be a matter of regret that Mr Russell chooses not to work with the council, but instead seems hell-bent only on attacking the council regardless of the circumstances.
“One consolation is that Mr Russell is, at least, joining us in encouraging people to share their views in the current public consultation being carried out by the Boundary Commission.
“We repeat that we would much prefer to work with Mr Russell in the best interests of the people and communities of Argyll and Bute. We believe that by working together we could achieve much more for Argyll and Bute.
“However, while Mr Russell chooses to expend considerable time and energy on his persistent campaign against us, we will continue to work on the real priorities for our area – growing the population and delivering services for local people.”