Election stakes raised with SNP attack on council’s ‘appalling record’

The SNP has set out its local government election stall with a senior member of the party’s six-strong opposition group at Newtown launching a vicious attack on what he called the “appalling record” of the current Tory/Lib Dem/Independent administration during the past five years, writes Andrew Keddie.

Councillor Willie Archibald, SNP social work spokesman, warned the current incumbents that they were on “the brink of being history”.

And the West Linton veteran pledged that his party, if holding the reins of power after the May 3 polls, would abolish the current cabinet system, which puts key decisions into the hands of an executive drawn exclusively from the ruling administration, and reinstate service committees on which all parties were represented.

The target of his anger at last week’s council meeting, when a £264million budget was approved, was a so-called “end-of-term report” which outlined the achievements of the coalition, which has Independent David Parker at the helm, since it was formed in 2007.

The document, bearing the logos of the Conservatives and Lib Dems, who have 12 and 10 elected representatives respectively on 34-member Scottish Borders Council, recalled that the coalition was formed to “establish a strong and experienced team, committed to working together to deliver excellent services and strengthen local communities”.

It goes on: “The years of this administration have been characterised by success, delivery, achievement and the implementation of our ambitious programme – all against a backdrop of global recession, increasing demand for services, a considerable real reduction in available resources and some of the severest winter conditions experienced in Scotland.”

It boasts that council tax has not been increased since 2008 and efficiency savings of £16million have been achieved from a business transformation programme.

“This has allowed us to maintain and invest in frontline services. We have made significant progress which demonstrates the strength and effectiveness of this administration and the commitment we have had to listening and delivering for local people.”

The report goes on to tick a range of policy priorities which have been achieved, including “creating a climate in which local business can flourish and grow” and “delivering affordable homes to meet the needs of people of the Borders”. Across a range of other criteria, there is no reference to any priorities which have not been completed.

Waving the document, Mr Archibald described it as “a fairy story with no villains, but plenty of heroes”.

Noting it contained the Tory and Lib Dem logos, he blasted: “Looking at this record of the main players in this administration, we quite understand how these parties were totally rejected by voters across Scotland at last May’s Holyrood election.

“They have concentrated power centrally, abolishing what remains of local democracy. They have shut down area committees in most places. They have abolished our local licensing boards and centralised them into one board over which they have retained control, effectively politicising a non-political function.

“When it comes to representation on outside bodies, we see the same sidelining of the opposition with two Tories being appointed to Lothian and Borders Police Board. They have arrogantly persisted with free meals for councillors at full council meetings, voting down SNP attempts to end this practice.

“And, of course, they take credit for implementing SNP budgets which have been opposed by their party colleagues in Edinburgh.

“It is an appalling record of hypocrisy and arrogance and their time is now up. This administration will soon join previous administrations as just a picture on the wall in one of the corridors. They are on the brink of being history.”

Mr Archibald, 71, said the only merit of the report was that it had been done on the cheap. “At least we don’t have to suffer seeing photos of administration councillors grinning out of its pages.”

Tory group leader Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre said the financial climate had completely changed since 2007 and she countered: “Whenever an election is on the horizon, some people decide it’s time to kick the council and that’s not good to see. I think we have done our best, but as with most report cards, we could also have done better.”

For the Independents, Councillor Michael Cook described Mr Archibald’s comments as “splenetic”. They did not acknowledge the way the council had co-operated together to put the Borders first. iMr Parker said Mr Archibald’s attack had been the most “curmudgeonly” he had ever heard in the chamber.