Former Aberdeenshire Provost reflects on his career

Former Provost, Bill Howatson, will no longer have to worry about any Aberdeenshire Council agendas or meetings.

By Kirstie Topp, Local Democracy Reporter
Thursday, 12th May 2022, 8:28 am
Updated Thursday, 12th May 2022, 8:29 am
Former Provost of Aberdeenshire, Bill Howatson stood down before the election on May 5.

The former Mearns councillor, who also served as Provost of Aberdeenshire for ten years, stepped down ahead of the local government elections as he “felt it was time for a change”.

He was first elected as a Lib Dem councillor in 1999 and represented the Mearns South ward.

But politics wasn’t always the main focus in his life.

Before joining the local authority he used to write for the Press and Journal as the Aberdeen newspaper’s Farming editor and columnist.

Bill remarked: “I did that for 12 years or so and I had great fun writing a column and I continued writing columns for The Courier in Dundee for a few years and then I got merged into politics so the writing had to go by the wayside.”

Prior to his time at the Press and Journal Bill worked at a local newspaper in Dumfriesshire before making the move up to the north-east.

Back in 1999 a friend of his, who had been involved in politics, raised the impending local elections and encouraged Bill to “take a chance” and become a candidate.

After joining the Liberal Democrats Bill decided to stand in the Aberdeenshire elections and successfully secured a seat.

He managed to retain his seat in every election since and said the role of councillor had been a “very interesting and rewarding position”.

During his time at Aberdeenshire Council Bill was lucky enough to take on the role of Provost not just once but twice.

He became Provost for the first time in 2007 and held the title until 2012 when he passed the baton on to former councillor Jill Webster, making her the region’s first female Provost.

However, Bill donned the Provost chain once again following the 2017 election.

He confessed: “I had always had an interest after the first spell I did and I never thought for a minute I would go back for a second term but when we were discussing the administration five years ago I realised that we would obviously need a Provost. I spoke to one or two colleagues and they said ‘well you’ve done it before so have another shot’.

“A friend of mine phoned up the day after I was appointed and he said ‘For goodness sake why don’t you give someone else a chance?’ but it was too good a thing to miss.”

As the Provost of Aberdeenshire, Bill had the responsibility to represent the region at local, national and international events.

He said: “In my time as Provost I had opened at least 30 major building projects and I think that’s a testament to the council for its ambitious capital programme which is also providing local jobs and trying to boost the local economy.”

One of his highlights as Provost included hosting the Inspiring Aberdeenshire awards, one of the council’s biggest annual events.

The awards are held to celebrate the achievements and successes of local people across the region.

He said: “It yielded remarkable stories of community work and it really defined for me the spirit of Aberdeenshire. The awards have been running now for ten years and when I was Provost I was immensely proud to have hosted them for five years and that was something that was very important.”

Reflecting on his two terms representing Aberdeenshire Bill said: “It’s a great honour to serve as Provost playing host to royal visitors, business leaders, learning more about our communities, showcasing all the qualities of Aberdeenshire – the unique and wonderful place that it is.”

During his stint as a local councillor Bill noted there had also been “difficult times that affected us as a community” with one particularly tough moment being the Stonehaven rail disaster in August 2020.

Driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury lost their lives when the train they were travelling in left the tracks at Carmont, near Stonehaven.

Bill said the crash was “truly a heartbreaking situation” but he praised the response by the emergency services, describing it as “first class”.

He added: “How the local community came together to support those families directly affected and also by the support of the emergency workers, I was very proud to see that in action.”

Bill also marked the passing of councillor Fergus Hood who sadly died last year following a prolonged illness.

He said: “That was an extremely difficult time when you lose a friend and a colleague, someone who had dedicated themselves to supporting the community. That was quite a loss.”

He also noted that the coronavirus pandemic had been a “challenge” for the council but said he was “proud” of the collective work by both his fellow councillors and local authority staff for allowing the democratic process to continue uninterrupted.

Now that Bill has left the council the Provost role is vacant once again but he has some words of advice for the next post holder: “Enjoy the unique opportunity that has come and sharpen those scissors for all the official openings and ribbon cuttings – they are always more challenging than they appear to be.

“Listen to the stories of the people that make up our communities and celebrate with them, and have a firm but fair hand when chairing the meeting of the full council.”

He added: “I’ve made very good friends in the council over the years and working with them has been a great pleasure but I’m looking to the future now. I’ve done my stint and I’m proud of it, and I enjoyed doing it. It’s been a big chunk of my life and I have enjoyed it enormously.”