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Perth and Kinross Council Approves Controversial Change in Democratic Process

Councillors met to vote on a proposal put forward with which aims to ‘free up officer capacity in order to focus on the COVID-19 response.’

However, opposition councillors made it clear that they would vote against the proposal voicing their concerns that it will ‘see a diminution of the role of hard-working ward Councillors.’

Because of the pandemic, staff working within the council have had to address day to day council business as well as the additional workload brought on by the pandemic.

This work includes assisting with the roll out of the vaccine, managing grants, among other COVID related activity.

Now that the new proposal has passed, the council will meet monthly and an urgent business committee, made up of 13 members, will meet to discuss urgent business.

However, the SNP, Independent and Labour groups suggested an alternative that would put forward, ‘short concise papers being prepared for items urgently requiring decision, with non-urgent items delayed for a few months.’

Or by ‘freeing up officer capacity by not requiring attendance of officers except those in Committee Service who are required to support the running of the meeting.’

Ending the meeting on a vote, the councillors voted 21 to 17 in favour making these changes, with the Liberal Democrat group backing the Conservative proposal.

Commenting on the passing of the proposal, Highland Ward councillor, John Duff said: “The Council voted today in favour of taking all urgent and essential decisions to a monthly meeting of the full Council where every Councillor will be able to hear and question reports and vote on these important decisions.

“That is fair and democratic and at the same time will free up officer capacity by cancelling individual service committees. This will allow officers to continue to respond to the pandemic, protect all of us especially the vulnerable, assist the NHS to deliver the biggest mass vaccination programme ever and process grant applications to help our residents and businesses.

“We anticipate that only a very small number of extremely urgent and important items may be taken to the 13-member Urgent Business Committee where it cannot wait the monthly full Council meeting.”

Every member expressed their understanding that the council’s officers are under an increased workload and offered their gratitude to their service during the pandemic.

Some councillors were grieved by an insinuation that conveyors who run committee meetings will have less to do over this period.

In the lead up to the vote, the SNP’s group leader, Grant Laing, said: “Any move to reduce the Committee Structure and move towards a Cabinet structure where power rests with just a few well-informed Councillors will see a diminution of the role of hard-working ward Councillors. This move by Cllr Lyle shows just how out of step the Perthshire Tories are with the rest of the country.

“We haven’t found any other Council taking these steps in order to deal with the pandemic. This must be about a lack of political leadership to drive forward the business of the Council.”

Contributing to his concerns, on behalf of the Independent and Labour group, fellow Highland Ward representative, Xander McDade added: “The Prime Minister has said ‘we are in this together’ but his own councillors are due to get their full senior councillor allowance despite not having committees to Chair for the next five months.

“The taxpayers of Perth & Kinross, many of whom are furloughed or unemployed, are likely to be outraged about these proposals and rightly so. They create a two-tier system of councillors and a set of double standards.”

In responding to the letter co-signed by Cllrs McDade and Laing, Cllr Duff said: “Furthermore, members were given assurances today that officers will support the budget process as best they can against the backdrop of this pandemic, however, we await details of local authority settlements from the Scottish Government before we know our financial position for 2021/22.

“Finally, the letter fails to understand the role of Conveners and the fact that they will not have a 3-hour meeting to chair every two months is, perhaps, the least part of their duties.”

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