Dr Dolittle taunt over area committees U-turn plan

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AN SNP member has likened the coalition administration at Scottish Borders Council to a two-headed Doctor Dolittle character, in an attack on a working group’s report on area committees.

The Engaging with the Borders Community group, set up in 2010 and headed by Tweeddale East’s Liberal Democrat councillor Graham Garvie, will recommend today that three of five committees which were scrapped be re-introduced.

But the decision will not be made until after the council elections in May, further infuriating Tweeddale West councillor Willie Archibald, who lambasted the Tory/Lib-Dem/independent ruling group at SBC this month.

Councillor Archibald said: “This council is like the Doctor Dolittle character Pushmi-Pullyu which has the two heads moving in opposite directions. They have half abolished area committees and then half reinstated the ones they abolished.

“The Liberals and the Tories cannot agree on this, while the Independents just don’t have an opinion. It has taken them two years to set up this working group and they still have not come to a decision. It is ludicrous.”

He added: “How much money has all this cost in officials’ expenses, only for them to not to bring themselves to make a decision before the election. It is beyond belief.

“The report is named community engagement and while they spoke to some community councils, there wereno opposition members on the committee, and consultation never really took place with us.”

In August 2010, councillors took 10 minutes to ditch Berwickshire, Eildon and Tweeddale’s area committees, which met monthly in the presence of non-voting community council representatives and members of the public.

The SNP saw it as a cost-saving victory. Cheviot and Teviot and Liddesdale have remained because of greater public involvement.

A working group of five councillors, all of them then area committee chairmen, was put together at the same meeting to improve community engagement.

After studying initiatives across Britain and holding discussions with Borders community groups, Councillor Garvie and his colleagues have proposed a revamp of agendas for each committee to “appeal more to members of the public”.

Responding to the SNP members’ claims, Councillor Garvie said: “Councillor Archibald clearly has had a memory loss on the position of the SNP on this very important issue.

“They firstly tabled a motion early in the lifetime of this council to abolish area committees, and subsequently voted with the Conservatives to remove decisions on planning applications from area committees.

“Only the Liberal Democrats supported the retention of planning decisions at area committees.

“The Liberal Democrats are very keen to restore local decision-making, including the examination of planning applications and council budgets at local level, and we would be delighted if the SNP councillors would support us in that.”

“With only a few weeks to go until the council elections, it is only sensible that these findings are examined and decided upon by the new council after these elections.”

Conservative leader Carolyn Riddell-Carre insisted her party and the Lib-Dems plan to support the report’s findings, and hit out at the SNP’s members.

She added: “Mr Archibald keeps talking about democracy and we [the Conservatives and Liberals] are united in wanting to have a forum in each area of the Borders, where matters of interest to the public can be discussed.

“However, I wonder how interested the Nats are in doing their job.

“On Monday we held a meeting of the local review body which hears local appeals into decisions made by planning officers. Donald Moffat and Jim Brown had been scheduled to attend, and were in the building. But they preferred to attend a meeting of their group rather than attend to the important work which this committee was doing.”