At last week’s meeting of Dunoon Community Council I made mention of the decision at the June council meeting that took further powers away from the area committees. This step towards further centralisation and loss of democratic control was, for me, directly against much of what Audit Scotland said in their December 15 report on the council.
Area committees will no longer agree to the sale of council properties other than when being sold for less than valuation. Area committees will no longer handle any proposals to alter or stop up core paths. Officers will now do this with no democratic input at all.
I was asked at the meeting if I would write to Audit Scotland and I rather wearily agreed because nothing seems to make any difference. The key points from my letter are pasted below. It was sent to Fraser McKinlay, Controller of Audit, with a copy to Michael Russell MSP.
I explained to them (community council) on Monday evening this week that further powers were taken away from the local area committees at the June council meeting. The paper in question can be found at:
Please see recommendations 1.3 and 1.4 but you might also note 1.2 which will formalise what I consider to be poor practice.
During the meeting I quoted from your December report on the council because Audit Scotland had made some very good points in that report. I used the following:
It can further improve how it involves local people by building on the local area committees and local community planning arrangements.
Following the Commission’s criticisms in 2013, the council agreed its current political management arrangements in January 2014. The principal changes were to introduce three new strategic committees: a Policy and Resources Committee, a Community Services Committee and an Environment, Development and Infrastructure Committee. Those arrangements included an increased remit for the council’s existing four area committees. In July 2014, we reported that the changes provided a foundation for improved governance, but that it was too early to assess their impact.
The council’s four area committees offer the potential to build good relationships with local communities and contribute to the council meeting its responsibilities under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.
Area committees can play an important role in building better relationships with communities, delivering local plans and priorities, and empowering people to do things for themselves. They can do this by working more effectively with local community planning groups to deliver on local strategies. In order to do so, the council needs to develop the committees further. While councillors are supportive of the need for area committees, almost half feel they are not effective. Reasons given for this include: area committees not controlling budgets; decisions about using resources – such as money and equipment – requiring approval by central strategic committees; and perceived conflict between the decisions taken at area committees and the strategic committees.
In my view, what was agreed in June is the exact opposite of what Audit Scotland recommended. Power has been taken away from the area committees and, I suspect, it’s only a matter of time before there is an attempt to close them down completely.
The argument put in favour of 1.3 and 1.4 was that it would make the council more responsive and decisions on property sales could be made quicker. That might hold water if it was true, but it’s not. I could give you dozens of examples of appalling waste of property assets (not least Castle Toward which has cost over £500k since it became empty) but there is one striking one in my own ward, the former Innellan Primary School.
I had arranged a transfer of the nursery that used the former school into the current Innellan Primary. The deal in principle was reached in February 2013. As of today, the former school has not even been declared surplus never mind put on the market. So much for being fleet of foot.