Democratic Independent and Green councillors Paul Johnston and Martin Ford have reached an agreement with Labour, Progressive Independent and SNP councillors on policies to be pursued by a new Aberdeenshire administration.
The agreed policies – on improved governance, support for communities and protecting the environment – will see the DIGG councillors remain a separate group on Aberdeenshire Council, but one that will support a new administration in key votes, giving the authority stability.
The agreement paves the way for an orderly transition to a new administration in Aberdeenshire, probably within a few weeks. It follows a series of resignations from the present Conservative-led governing group on the Council that have left it without majority support.
The extent of co-operation between the DIGG and a new administration, if elected, is set out in a letter sent today (Tuesday 26 May) following negotiations yesterday. The letter makes clear that the DIGG are not for joining the new administration, but are acting to prevent a potential stalemate on the Council. ( text below)
Democratic Independent councillor Paul Johnston said: “Given the intense speculation following a break-up of the current Conservative-led administration, we welcomed approaches to bring stability to Aberdeenshire Council and we have agreed to try and bring uncertainty to a close. Our objective is a positive change in direction and it’s clear there is agreement on that.
“We are not entering a coalition. But we will give confidence and support for a stable Aberdeenshire going forward.”
Green councillor Martin Ford said: “Our agreement commits a new administration to working with us on agreed policy priorities. For example, improvements to public engagement including proper consultation on the Council’s budget. Support for active travel – cycling and walking – and other measures to help reduce carbon emissions. Protection of the Council’s investment in community learning and development. Changing Council procurement rules to take account of wider benefits that might be secured through purchasing decisions.
“We believe these changes will deliver real benefits for Aberdeenshire residents.”
TEXT OF LETTER
26th May 2015
Councillor Alison Evison (Scottish Labour Group)
Councillor Hamish Vernal (Scottish National Party Group)
Councillor Martin Kitts-Hayes (Independent Progressive Group)
Dear Alison, Hamish and Martin
Thank you for approaching us regarding the need for a new administration for Aberdeenshire. You were right to note that we have made no secret of our belief that Aberdeenshire Council needs to change and that a change of administration could provide a basis for securing badly needed improvements.
As Democratic Independent and Green councillors, we also have no doubt – in the interests of the residents of Aberdeenshire, Council service users and the Council as a whole – that a new minority administration must not be destabilised by constant uncertainty. While we have said we are not seeking to join the new administration, we are pleased that we have been able to reach an understanding to deliver both a change of administration and future stability for the Council. Clearly, whether there is a change depends on decisions at a future full council meeting. From our side, the Democratic Independent and Green Group (DIGG) undertakes to support the election of a new coalition administration and, if it is elected to office, not to vote the new administration out of office subject to the administration abiding by our agreement, as set out in this letter. The DIGG will support your administration in confidence votes to replace the leadership and policy committee chairs. The DIGG will not vote with other parties to defeat your administration’s budget.
From your side, the DIGG assurance on ‘confidence and supply’ for the new administration is conditional on your administration, if it is elected, showing continuing commitment to improving governance, openness and transparency in Council decision making, and delivery of
the best possible public services by the Council. From your approach and our discussions with you, we can conclude that we agree that change is needed in support of these aims. As long as the Council’s direction of travel is broadly in accordance with these principles, and subject to the delivery of specific policy priorities, the DIGG will give your administration the necessary support for it to continue in office.
The specific DIGG policy priorities we agreed would be put into effect by your administration are:
The Council will support local communities and residents by:
1. Ensuring that spending on community learning and development is maintained, ie. no cuts to the community, learning and development budget line in the agreed provisional revenue budgets for 2016/17 (£4.762 million), 2017/18 (£4.822 million), 2018/19 (£4.883 million) and 2019/20 (£4.945 million).
2. Encouraging suppliers of goods and services to the Council to pay at least the living wage to their employees.
3. Investing at least £100,000 p.a. into preventative local health and social care services, specifically to fund third-sector organisations in Aberdeenshire to support vulnerable residents achieve or maintain independent living, funded through efficiencies from within adult social care services.
4. Adopting a third-sector charter to improve third-sector engagement, with the inclusion of a calculation or assessment of the social value of third-sector projects that can be considered as value in procurement processes the authority undertakes.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND SUSTAINABILITY
The Council will include tackling climate change as one of its overarching strategic priorities. The Council will review the governance and scrutiny arrangements for ensuring its decisions with climate change implications are taken in line with its policy commitments and national targets. Specifically, the Council will:
1. Support the inclusion of re-opening the Dyce to Ellon railway line in the Aberdeen City Region Deal, subject to investigation establishing a projected favourable cost:benefit ratio.
2. Include transition to a low carbon economy as a specific priority for economic development. 3. Move at least £250,000 p.a. from roads maintenance to supporting active travel (cycling and walking).
4. Make a commitment to producing zero waste by moving towards a circular economy, as a first step demonstrating how Council offices can remove recyclable materials, unnecessary plastics and compostable waste from the waste stream.
The Council will make improvements to its governance arrangements to strengthen transparency, accountability and public engagement and to ensure all parties and councillors are fairly represented in Council structures. Specifically, the Council will:
1. Remove barriers to the submission and debate of motions from individual councillors at Area Committees and full council. Any motions ruled inadmissible by the chair must appear on the agenda with the reasons for the chair’s decision. A facility for an oral supplementary
question to written questions at full council will be reinstated.
2. Alter its standing orders so the terms of a councillor’s unseconded motion shall be recorded in the minutes of full council and committee meetings if requested by the mover to improve the public transparency of council decision making.
3. Change the process for setting the Council’s budget in accordance with the principles and process set out in the DIGG letter to group leaders of 10 March 2015, to allow for public consultation on budget proposals.
4. Review the Council’s community engagement strategy and ensure full compliance by services in meeting the national standards of community engagement. Measure effectiveness of all community engagement activity to support improvements on a continuous basis.
The DIGG will be asking the Council’s chief executive to report to us on progress/delivery of the above, annually and ahead of the Council’s revenue budget setting meeting.
While we are pleased to be working with you to deliver change, the specific policies we have agreed and good governance across the Council, the DIGG will remain an independent opposition group. It will decide its own position on general policy matters and committee decisions, based on manifesto commitments, individual views, policy principles and circumstances, and agree or not with other parties and your administration on a case-by-case basis. The DIGG councillors will take individual decisions in any votes on the choice for Area chairs and the chair of the audit committee (these not being positions in the political leadership of the Council) and in any confidence votes relating to alleged incompetence or wrong-doing by a policy chair/vice-chair.
We are glad we have been able to agree key broad directions of travel and believe this will form the basis for a constructive working relationship ensuring a stable and effective Council.
With best wishes
Cllr Martin Ford and Cllr Paul Johnston
Democratic Independent and Green Group councillors