Outwardly you could be forgiven for thinking that the document that went to Highland Council last week entitled Scheme of Delegation Revisions for the new Local Committees presented very little of substance for The Nairnshire Local Committee – a committee that we will see emerge next year once the divorce with Badenoch and Strathspey is complete. Words like "scrutinise, consider, approve, monitor, review," will shine through at anyone who has the courage to read the report. At first reading it doesn’t seem the stuff of a brand new powerhouse that would restore the democratic deficit to Nairn. One could imagine the new concept being the same fare as the pervious larger area committee where councillors sat there and approved or noted reports from officials. There will be further discussions in March however when it seems that the Community Services budgets may be handed over to the local committees, something that would be a major step forward if it were to happen.
Councillors expressed a range of views from despair to optimism. The only local member to speak was Michael Green and he came just after a Lochaber member Brian Gormley who seemed on the verge of despair with the new proposals. It might be interesting for Gurnites to compare what Brian Gormley had to say with Michael’s thesis, our local member sees a bright future coming out of this document.
Cllr Brian Gormley was despondent. He said: “I’m having great difficulty seeing how this will improve local democracy as it is perceived by the people I represent”
He then made reference to Fort William Community Council disatisfaction. A recent press article here will shed some light on why he chose to do that. He went on to say that he thought that it seemed to be weaker than the previous scheme of delegation and he suggested that the local committee wouldn’t have any powers and be “Granny’s knitting circle.” He continued:
“And that is the way that people will see them and those in our outlying areas throughout Lochaber and I suspect Caithness and Sutherland as well who believe that they are denied local democracy by the structure of Highland Council and who believe passionately that Highland Council should be torched [...] they will be persuaded that a pan-Highland Council is useless to them. This will really strengthen those arguments.”
Michael Green, speaking directly after the Lochaber member, radiated waves of optimism in comparison. He welcomed the report and thanked the official for her work. He said:
|Michael Green speaking last week
“It’s down the road of localism and it’s given us cards to do things just now.”
Highlighting a part of the document he went on:
“Freeing up the Common Good, which will not allow us to do anything we couldn’t do if we bring it to the full council and it will give us the flexibility to move things forward quicker, so we will have the building block cash and the flexibility to do something.”
He went on to mention BIDS (Business Improvement Districts):
“I’m in the process of setting up a BID and in a year from now we’ll have one which will be mandated, which will give us the capacity to take projects forward. So I welcome that aspect as well.
Looking at another section of the report, he went on:
“To agree a local community engagement where we will have a mechanism set up where we will have the people of Nairn who will give us a mandate which has not always been the way in Nairn. So while Cllr Gormley is knitting, while Cllr Phillips is cogitating, while Cllr MacKay is looking at different cultural structures around the Highlands; we in Nairn in ten years time – I will be inviting Karen (HC official) down to the new harbour when the first cruise ship pulls in because you’ve given us the building blocks here and I look forward to inviting you down to the first cruise ship coming to the new harbour in Nairn.”
More of the same or a time of great optimism and opportunity? It would be nice to think that the new local committee could see us a further step on the road to getting democracy back to Nairn but it all comes at a dangerous time. The Highland Council is about to be convulsed by a £40 million cuts apocalypse and there are those that argue we don’t get our equitable share of local government funds as it is – what if we get more than our equitable share of cuts if attempts are made to preserve jobs at Glenurquhart Road at our expense? Just what will be left of Nairnshire’s local government services once the cuts are through? And the Independent administration will it too be convulsed by the cuts as communities discover what will go and start the inevitable action campaigns? Knitting circles or local powerhouses – will they get far off the drawing board after the dust from the cuts settles? Could the Indie regime and Glenurquhart Road crash and burn or will it be cohesive enough to implement brutal cuts and then go on to juggle remaining resources and find the will to give real power to area committees?