Editorial: Consultations are only real if they are listened to

Sunday Supplement

Our detailed look back on the stories that we have been talking about in Moray…..

Protests: We’ve been here before

The words that struck a chord with many insideMoray readers this week came from concerned parents at just one of several Moray secondary and primary schools under serious threat of closure.

Speaking about the ‘consultation’ process that accompanied a report believed to have cost Moray Council in excess of £300,000, Ryan Main said: “From the outset it was made clear to us that this would be a process in which we were encouraged to engage. Our views, opinions and ideas would be welcomed.

“It would appear, however, that this was nothing more than paying lip service to the communities they are duty bound to serve.

“We were almost convinced that by putting forward our structured opinions and suggestions this would feed into the process and that the consultants would begin to understand just how important communities like Findochty consider their primary school to be.

“Instead, it’s more likely that we have been a means to a box being ticked somewhere along a statutory process.”

[box] “On the one hand the local authority like to claim themselves as a ‘listening’ authority – while on the other they studiously ignore the majority views…”[/box] It is not by any means the first time that communities have felt let down by Moray Council’s consultation processes.

On the one hand the local authority like to claim themselves as a ‘listening’ authority – while on the other they studiously ignore the majority views of the people they consult with and carry on with their pre-ordained policies.

I had first-hand experience of this when the threat to close seven libraries in the region reared its head.

When the first suggestions of this transpired I was a candidate in the Heldon & Laich by-election, where two of the under-threat libraries were scheduled for closure.

A few months later and it became clear that the council were set on a path that they would not be moved from – despite advice from their own legal department that they could face a legal challenge in the Court of Session.

Still they hammered on, ignoring the views of communities, balancing their arguments with the need to save around £30million over three years (in fact it later emerged the circumstances were not as black as they were being painted).

I got deeply involved in that campaign simply because the actions of the council were just plain wrong. It was suggested by some independent councillors that I was involved ‘under the direction of the SNP’, who I was working for at the time.

That was simply untrue, I was involved because I cared enough to fight what I saw as an injustice. In the end along with several others in our community I was prepared to back a legal challenge by a very brave Hopeman resident.

It was a stance that did not force a complete victory, but did achieve a very important partial one in that three of the libraries remained open when Councillors saw sense and stepped back from legal action they were destined to lose.

So the line between this and the threat to schools? Similarities are obvious in that once again the Council seem hell bent on ignoring the opinion of the people they serve.

This time, however, it is difficult to see where any grounds on which a legal challenge might be built.

And that leaves campaigners throughout Moray at the mercy of the people they elected to serve their best interests.

It will be interesting to see how they react to the consultant’s recommendations – signs are not good with Councillor’s from all parties representing mainly urban wards appearing set to back the proposals.

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