Proposed new council structure would be more democratic

Donald Moffat
Donald Moffat

THE Scottish National Party is taking full advantage of its strong position in Scottish Borders Council’s new executive to push forward with its wishes to change how the council operates.

Before last month’s council elections the SNP’s manifesto included abolishing the current executive/scrutiny decision making system adopted by Scottish Borders Council in 2001 and replacing it with “a fully democratic committee structure”, having spent the past five years in opposition and squeezed out of much of the council’s decision making.

“Rather than an elite executive making decisions that impact on Borders communities, we are determined to seek more transparent and accountable systems delivered through all (34) elected representatives,” said Mid Berwickshire councillor Donald Moffat (SNP).

By May 4, the number of SNP councillors had risen to nine and as councillors of all political persuasions jostled for overall control of the council, the final ruling administration of nine SNP councillors, six Liberal Democrats and nine independents has thrashed out an agreement to move to a ‘hybrid’ committee structure.

The proposed ’hybrid’ has now been drawn up and includes eight main committees (executive, education, environment and infrastructure, social work and housing, audit, standards, petitions, economic development). It will go to the full council for approval by the end of August.

A petitions committee at council level is a new concept for the Borders and will be a forum for public petitions and delegations to be heard, similar to that set up by the Scottish Parliament.

However, the “committee must be meaningful and not derail or significantly slow down council business”.

Another proposed new addition is an economic development group meeting at least six times a year and involving administration and opposition members, plus business representatives.

Councillor Moffat told the Berwickshire “As someone who has been involved in the old system and the system we have, which has seen quicker decision making, I could also see the deficit.

“Unless a councillor was involved in the education or social work executive they wouldn’t have a great knowledge of them, and councillors haven’t had the same understanding of what has been going on.

“With what we are proposing there would be proper representation of all the groups whether they are running the council or not which I think is fair.

“An example is the Pathfinder committee (oversees the delivery of police and fire and rescue services when the new single service model comes into force in Scotland). When it was set up there was to be one Conservative councillor on it, they wanted two, so now they have two councillors representing them on the committee. It’s very democratic.”