The removal of two Angus Council posts, for which remuneration was paid to the councillors filling them, has led to a heated debate in the chamber.
The difficulty is that whilst Councillors Mairi Evans (Brechin), and Sheila Hands (Monifieth), are no longer convener and vice-convener of development and enterprise, the administration has decided that despite these posts no longer existing they should still be paid their at their previous level which, in total, is an additional £6700.
Development and enterprise matters are now to be dealt with by the policy and resources committee.
It is proposed, now that the convenership positions are defunct, that those who previously held them will have the status of ‘leading member’ conferred on them.
Some members are confused by the situation, and ask why the titles were done away with, if those who previously held them are apparently still doing an amount of work which justifies the remuneration?
At a meeting of the full council in Forfar, Brechin Councillor Bob Myles seconded a motion by Arbroath’s David Fairweather that the money should no longer be paid.
Councillor Fairweather stated that the £6700 payments should be stopped and the money put to better use.
He tabled an amendment to the committee restructures review motion that the now ‘defunct’ roles should not be continued under the ‘guise of leading members’.
He suggested weedkiller would be a suitable alternative use for the money as it would do a great deal of good for the rest of Angus, and would resolve many of the complaints the council receives about untidy areas.
Councillor Fairweather pointed out that he was on four committees, two member officer groups, and the shadow group for Angus Alive. He received no remuneration at all for the work he did on them.
Councillor Myles told the council that he felt membership status was being contrived, in a bid to get remuneration when they were not actually doing anything.
He suggested that the work of the other members of the committee was just as valuable.
At the meeting Councillor Evans said she could not understand Councillor Myles’ comments, given his and Mr Fairweather’s previous experience of serving on committees.
She continued: “I should have thought you would have known there is a heck of a lot more to this role than chairing a committee once every six weeks. I know this is seeming like I have to justify my position, but I am surprised at that coming from the two of you - what did you do in your time is the question I would ask.”
Council leader Iain Gaul said that Councillors Evans and Hands were in working more often than probably all non-adminstration members, with the possible exception of Councillors Bob Spink and Brian Boyd.
He felt that the comments made by the opposition councillors were “out of order” and added: “I think someone has taken the opportunity to create a little bit of mischief and grab a couple of headlines in the paper ...”
Councillor Ewan Smith declared that personal attacks from both sides were “shocking”.
Councillor Myles emphasised to the Brechin Advertiser that there was no personal animosity between him and Councillors Evans and Hands - he was simply trying to save the council money.
The Brechiner asked Councillors Evans and Hands for a comment on the situation, and both responded in considerable detail - indeed far more than we would have been able to print in the newspaper.
However, here they are in full:
Councillor Evans: As an administration we took the decision to make economic development the real driving force of Angus, directly responsible to the Chief Executive. The decision on Thursday simply changed the reporting method, rather than having a stand alone committee it was decided to have reports feed through the policy and resources committee, saving on both officer and elected member travel time. This in no way changed the remit of the Convener and Vice Convener roles which remain the same.
The remit is extensive and has involved a great deal of work over the past few years which is starting to produce real changes. We have developed new brands- Visit Angus- which includes a Taste of Angus- our food and drink strategy, tourism, golf, marketing. Business Angus- driving investment and jobs to the area, supporting businesses, Planning- our development plans and policy for the county. As well as this we deal with skills and employment, broadband and the council’s digital agenda, emerging technologies to help those in rural areas, renewables, external funding- increasingly vital for communities as well as well as various council departments. The remit also includes overseeing the delivery of multi million pound projects such as Montrose South Regeneration and broadband roll-out.
This involves being a member of numerous bodies both within and out with the council, across Angus, Scotland, Europe and further afield and working closely with a number of organisations- Scottish Enterprise, the Federation for Small Businesses, Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce, Business Gateway, Skills Development Scotland, Tactran, Tayplan, Cosla, the Scottish Government as well as our neighbouring local authorities to name a few- some relationships that were not in existence before, that we have created and enhanced.
As Convener I chair the East of Scotland European Consortium which represents 8 local authorities on the East Coast of Scotland- it is because of the work done with this organisation that we have access to funds we have never had before, one of which being the Interreg fund for development that Brechin is set to be a beneficiary of. I sit on the Council of European Municipalities and Regions and the Council of Europe- all of this means we have greater European and wider international engagement than ever before, opening Angus up to wider investment and partnerships that are now starting to bear fruit. This also means we have a greater degree of influence over European policy affecting us as a local authority, than ever before.
The remit of Development and Enterprise underpins all departments of the Council, it’s what drives Angus and makes it the thriving place we all want it to be. That’s why it was given the focus it was and why it was given a specific political leading role which I undertake with Councillor Hands.
All councillors receive a basic allowance, a special responsibilities allowance is attributed to those members who have an extra workload because of the added duties they undertake.
Councillor Hands: It is only the Development and Enterprise Committee meetings that will no longer take place after Thursday’s Full Council’s decision re Report 237/15 Review of Committee Structures. This in no way changes our roles or responsibilities.
Angus Council remains committed to attracting new businesses to Angus, safeguarding and where possible creating new jobs. We are keen to grow our already successful tourism sector and most of all we are delighted to be contributing, through the Taste of Angus brand, our contribution to Scotland’s year of food and drink.
Just because the separate Development and Enterprise Committee has gone this does not mean Angus has stopped supporting businesses and no longer welcomes visitors. The committee ended in order to reduce costs in terms of travel time for Members and Officers but the work still goes on. All that will happen now is that our reports will go to the Policy and Resources committee and the Convener and myself will just be responsible to this committee instead of our own stand-alone committee.
During the last committee Review Economic Development was removed from a previous committee and given its own committee. However, this turned out not to be a report intensive remit.
Nonetheless, it does require a lot of face-to-face contact. Similarly, during the Council’s restructuring of services Economic Development was moved from the Communities Directorate into the Chief Executive’s Unit. Therefore far from diluting the previous responsibilities and time commitments of the Convener and Vice Convener it has actually required an increased involvement.
Below is a list of the activities I have been personally involved in and will continue to do so I have day-to-day responsibility to assist the Convener in her role providing strategic leadership of the department;
I will still retain a scrutinising role ensuring that the department achieves its performance targets;
I will still have the same responsibility for scrutinising reports including the Angus Council Community Grants Scheme;
I will still work closely with the various sector groups promoting Angus as a good place to do business. These groups include The Food and Drink Industry, Accommodation Providers, Cultural and Heritage groups/organisations and Carnoustie country;
I have made various visits to Angus companies keen to find out more business support information/be signposted to sources of help and advice within Angus Council and elsewhere;
I have been consulted on and will continue to contribute towards a number of strategic policies including our current Economic Strategy and refresh of our tourism strategy;
I participate in the Angus Economic Development Partnership who’s remit is to monitor the performance of the Council’s economic strategy as well as developing economic growth, employment, education and training opportunities through partnership collaboration;
I represent Angus Council on the Tayside Regional Advisory Board. This brings together representatives from Dundee City, Perth and Kinross and Angus Councils along with representatives from Scottish Enterprise and the Private sector to promote economic growth in the region;
I also represent Angus Council on the CoSLA Development, Enterprise and Sustainability Committee which covers national issues relating to economic development;
I attend /speak at various promotional campaign/launch activities when asked by the department to do so;
Every opportunity I get I promote Angus either as a good place to live and work in or as an excellent place to visit;
I have been an Elected Member on two Strategic Planning Member Officer Groups on the Angus Local Development Plan and TAYplan.
These duties are in addition to my responsibilities as a Ward Councillor. The special responsibilities allowance I receive has been around since 2007 and Cllr Fairweather would have received this during his time as vice convener of Infrastructure Services the same Committee I was vice convener of from May 2012 until January 2014. Incidentally, during this time I was actually Vice Convener for two Committees and a board, namely Infrastructure Services committee, Civic Licensing Committee and the Licensing Board and only received a special responsibilities allowance for one of them.
Given the changes in responsibility brought about through the changes in both Council Services and Committee structures, all Cllr Fairweather needed to do is come and ask Cllr Evans or myself about our roles and we would have been more than happy to outline to him our previous and future activities.