Aberdeenshire council chief hails authority for getting job done without any ‘political spats’

The new leader of Aberdeenshire Council today said he is glad the local authority has managed to avoid “political spats” in contrast to its city counterpart.

The local authority will be run by a coalition of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Aligned Independents following a meeting of all councillors yesterday.

And the meeting was decidedly more sedate than its city counterpart which resulted in the suspension of nine Labour councillors on Wednesday, after they chose to work in coalition with the Conservatives.

Tory councillor Jim Gifford was named the new leader of the local authority by 38 votes to 25, defeating the SNP’s Richard Thomson, who had been co-leader of the council until the election.

He said the local authority differs from the city council as it has a “history of being polite and consensual”.

Mr Gifford, who was previously leader of the council until being ousted two years ago, added: “We’ve never had the political spats that other councils have had.

“I think what’s going on all over the country is quite incredible actually, they’re coming up to meetings and not knowing what is happening when they go into the chamber, getting into the chamber and immediately adjourning the meeting to not make a decision.

“I just don’t think that’s good for any council.

“I just don’t think it’s a great way to behave and I’m glad we manage to avoid that.”

The new administration has said it will put out a “shared vision” between the parties within the next couple of days.

But priorities include housing, especially those for rent, along with providing a first-class education and economic development across the region.

Getting a fairer funding deal for the council, which is the third lowest funded in Scotland, is another main aim of the administration.

Cllr Gifford said: “We absolutely want to provide the best education we can and there’s obviously challenges there in the last while.

“We are absolutely determined to continue what we’ve done with the past two councils and have a big focus on economic development so businesses feel supported and survive in the current new climate and encouraging new businesses to come here.”

But the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in their former Alliance partnership earlier this year proposed to slash the education budget by £3 million, including reducing music tuition, the pupil support assistant budget and cutting £500,000 from special education.

But Cllr Gifford said they were having to deal with an “enormous cut” in their budget by the Scottish Government.

He said: “That was our starting point and there are lots of different ways you could look at it.

“We had a huge list of proposed savings that were going to have to be made and we thought we could live with them.

“None of them were easy but there are choices to be made and education has to be looked at in the round.

“It’s way over half the budget of the council, to say education is going to be protected, immediately I would say it will have to come from somewhere else and that’s not possible or feasible.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Bill Howatson was appointed the region’s new Provost by 39 votes to 25.

He defeated Democratic Independent and Green councillor Paul Johnston to the role.

Cllr Howatson has already served as the civic head before, between 2007 and 2012.

Speaking to members, Cllr Howatson said he would carry out his duty with “energy, commitment and passion”.

He added: “What we do and how we act will send a clear message to a wider audience.

“The eyes of Aberdeenshire are on us and we have a collective duty to ensure we conduct ourselves with their best interests at heart.”

Conservative councillor Ron McKail was appointed as deputy Provost.

Councillor Peter Argyle, Liberal Democrat group leader, was named as deputy council leader in a move that went unopposed. He said the party was determined to have an administration that would “work numerically” when deciding who to partner up with.

Cllr Argyle added that they had the advantage of having worked with the Conservative group and independents in previous administrations, which meant the “trust was there”.

He said: “We had our manifesto, the Conservative group had their manifesto.

“The two fitted together extremely well.

“We’re merging those now into one joint manifesto with input from independent colleagues as well. It was a fairly straightforward process to get to where we got to today.”

Cllr Argyll said Aberdeenshire has “always been consensual” in the way they’ve worked.

He said: “And as far as the administration is concerned we’re utterly apart from national politics and we will not get hung up on whatever happens outside.

“In here our priority is Aberdeenshire, that’s communities, residents, businesses, visitors, that’s what we’re focused on. Whatever happens out in the big outside world can happen but in here we’ll work together.”

Councillor Norman Smith, leader of the Aligned Independents, said he decided to join coalition partners as it had “worked very well” together previously from 2012 to 2015.

He added: “One thing that was particularly noticed was politics was definitely left at the door. They had their own political arguments in their own rooms but once we came into the committee as an administration, politics definitely were left outside and that was a big bonus for me.”

SNP group leader Cllr Thomson told members of the council that under their stewardship as the previous administration, the council has “modernised the way it works”.

He added they had set the council “in a direction which was very much the right way”.

Cllr Thomson added: “It goes without saying we are disappointed to be leaving office with still so much to do.”