Local SNP councillors have urged Independent members of the ruling Alliance administration on Aberdeenshire Council to vote against controversial police and fire reforms, saying that the administration’s plans threatened to leave Buchan residents stripped of any effective representation over the services.
Fraserburgh and District Councillor Charles Buchan and Troup Councillor Hamish Partridge made their call after a meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee narrowly backed a proposal by eight votes to six that it should oversee the new national police and fire services within Aberdeenshire.
The proposals will now be voted on today (Thursday) at a full meeting of Aberdeenshire Council.
Scotland’s eight regional police forces, in common with their corresponding fire services, are to merge to form a single national police and a single national fire service from April 2013.
Although Scotland-wide boards will have strategic responsibility over the services, Scotland’s 32 local authorities have been given a free hand in deciding what local accountability measures they wish to put in place.
However, with only Deputy Provost, Central Buchan Councillor Norman Smith and Fraserburgh Councillor Michael Watt representing the Buchan and the Banff and Buchan areas on the Policy and Resources committee, SNP councillors have voiced fears that the interests of the north of Aberdeenshire will come off a poor second to areas which are better represented on the policy and resources committee.
The current 14-strong committee contains six councillors from the Garioch area, three from Formartine, two from Marr, and just one each from the Kincardine and Mearns, Buchan and Banff & Buchan areas
In order to redress the geographical imbalance, SNP councillors have proposed that a stand alone Public Safety Committee of 18 councillors be established, which would draw on three members from each of the six council area committees. As well as overseeing local police and fire services, the new ‘Blue Light’ committee would also take responsibility for community safety and emergency planning.
Commenting, Fraserburgh & District Councillor Charles Buchan said: “The policy and resources committee already has a full agenda. Notwithstanding the obvious geographical imbalance in the committee, we have serious concerns about the ability of the committee to provide effective scrutiny and oversight of services given its current workload. We owe it to people in Aberdeenshire to get this reform right and to ensure that the governance arrangements gets off on the right foot.”.
Troup Councillor Hamish Partridge added: “This is a really bad proposal which goes against the interests of local people. I can’t believe that anyone standing on an Independent ticket last May did so to hand power and influence away from their communities, yet that’s exactly what the Alliance of Independents, Tories and Lib Dems are now lining up to support.”