How Argyll & Bute Works: Bad behaviour !

At last week’s Policy and Resources Committee meeting there was a paper that purported to be a response to the last Audit Scotland report. This report contained the following gems:

There has been a general improvement in member behaviour and fewer issues are being raised/dealt with by Officers.

There are still ongoing issues with one or two members potentially leaking information and work is ongoing to obtain evidence in support of this. Where this is possible, referrals will be made to the standards commission.

Political groupings have been reformed and signed up to a statement of intent, which has provided stability and a clear understanding of expected behaviours.

There has been a general improvement in member behaviour and fewer issues are being raised/dealt with by Officers.

Protocol in place and the role of the Monitoring Officer has been reaffirmed, which has contributed to the overall improvement in member behaviour. Firmer action has been taken in respect of member behaviours, which has resulted in referrals to the Standards Commission.

Can you imagine a situation where civil servants wrote something like this about MSPs or MPs? I don’t think so but this is what officers in Argyll & Bute write about councillors. Michael Russell issued a press release about this which is pasted below. I can’t say any more or they will accuse me of criticising officers in public and that would lead to another complaint.

Commenting on a report to the Policy & Resources Committee of Argyll & Bute Council yesterday regarding progress in responding to a damning assessment of the Council by Audit Scotland last year, Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

“Even in the Alice in Wonderland world of Argyll & Bute Council this document is extraordinary.   I heard it reported on the BBC lunchtime news as I was driving through North Argyll and nearly came off the road.

In the document, which can be found at [] unelected officials report on “firmer action” taken against democratically elected members including reference to the Standards Commission . They also comment on what they call improvements in “member behaviour” and make threats to members regarding leaks to local media – the same local media , of course, that has complained about exactly that type of bullying approach by the council.

The language of the document is reminiscent of an   old fashioned school report about a disruptive class.   The tone and content would never by entertained in another authority but in Argyll & Bute the officials seem to be beyond criticism.

It is well known in Argyll that one of these references to the Standards Commission made by officials of the council is about Cowal Councillor Michael Breslin.

In reality Cllr Breslin is a hard working, principled public representative whose only crime has been to stand up for the people who elected him.   His actions in supporting the community buyout of Castle Toward have occurred the wrath of the Council Leader and the Council senior staff as has his constant questioning of the payment of care workers and his disquiet about the actions of the Council in a long running dispute at Rothesay Harbour.

He is already the subject of a complaint to the Standards Commission by the Council Leader, Deputy Leader and Provost.   The subsequent reference from the Council’s senior management team is , as I described it at the time, “ unwelcome , unwise, unjustified and unacceptable” and was publicly condemned by a number of Argyll & Bute councillors when news of it became public.   4 MSPs, an MP and 7 other Argyll & Bute Councillors signed a letter to the Standards Commissioner protesting about this treatment of Cllr Breslin.

Yet not only has the Council not learnt from this, they are adding insult to injury by claiming that such a reference is necessary to fulfil the requirements of Audit Scotland.   That is complete nonsense and they should not be permitted to get away with it.

Local people will be outraged by this report , particularly those in wards where good Councillors are being targeted because they are prepared to speak up for voters.

Audit Scotland should also be concerned about the way in which they are being used to justify what is a perversion of democracy. “

And there is one more gem in the report which, as readers of this blog will know, just isn’t true:

All elected members have access to all committee papers.


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