A FORRES COUNCILLOR hit out at what he described as an “undemocratic and utterly farcical” decision in the Moray Council chamber today.
A paper before the special meeting of the full council provided councillors with information on a proposal to create a Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS) for Forres town centre.
Previous CARS schemes in Elgin and Keith were praised as being a great success in regenerating old buildings in these town centres – and it was conceded in the paper that a Forres scheme would do a similar job, with the Council expected only to contribute a portion of the required funding.
However, officials recommended rejection of two proposals for the scheme in the submission – and local Forres councillor Aaron McLean proposed the lesser of these, costing the authority £390,000 over five years, should be adopted.
He added that even in difficult financial times for the local authority it represented excellent value and would attract several times more than the investment from external funding.
Following discussion that saw support from several councillors for the idea – and with Cllr McLean having a seconder for his proposal – officials intervened to say that it would not be acceptable as to do so would contravene a previous council decision on Capital Spending.
After several minutes during which an uncertain chairman, Cllr Allan Wright, sought advice from several quarters, a vote on suspending standing orders failed to get the required two-thirds majority.
Following the meeting Cllr McLean said: “The procedures used by the Convener in today’s meeting were totally undemocratic and utterly farcical.
“The SNP had accepted that with budget pressures the original proposal would need pared back and we asked for an alternative option, which council officers came up with – yet when it came to the crunch my motion to approve that lower commitment, which would still have delivered millions in investment in Forres, it was not even allowed to be considered.
“The Convener of the Council initially accepted my motion, which was seconded and had reasonable support but then decided after debating the issue that it was against standing orders. Ultimately we had the farcical situation where we had a recommendation to refuse to support this important project with those wishing to take it forward not even being allowed to vote a different way.
“I cannot believe that two other Forres Councillors would not support this investment in Forres, when economic development is supposedly the Council’s number one priority – and I cannot believe that they wouldn’t even allow an alternative option to be voted on. This was a bad day for Forres and a bad day for local democracy.”
I have had numerous opportunities to comment on what I believed to be undemocratic and, frankly, underhand tactics put to use by the Council Administration group over the last six years.
Never, however, I have seen a paper put to a full meeting of the council that offered three choices to elected members – agree either one of two proposal, or dismiss both – but only one outcome, rejection, was allowed.
In the event, it became apparent just when Councillor McLean appeared to be gathering support – perhaps sufficient to win the day, perhaps not – officials chose to intervene and invoke sufficient uncertainty and confusion.
That resulted in a procedural vote which, effectively, demonstrated that actually there was no choice being given to Councillors – leaving any normal-thinking person to wonder just why this was not mentioned in the paper itself and why the paper was ever put before the meeting in the first place.
To make matters worse, in my view, Moray Council then issued a press release highlighting the ‘decision’ in such a way as to imply that there had been no debate and all councillors agreed to dismiss the proposals.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. Even after losing the vote to suspend standing orders – a majority agreed but not the two-thirds required – there were protest from the opposition side when Cllr Wright put the proposal to the meeting that the recommendations in the paper be accepted.
Buckie councillor Gordon McDonald asked what possible alternative motion could be placed – at least Administration councillors had the good grace to look embarrassed as they confessed there was none.
Councillor McLean’s statement of the decision being undemocratic and farcical perhaps, for this writer, does not go far enough. Democracy died in the Council Chamber this afternoon.