Saturday, 7 November 2015

Council accused of blocking discussion over awards costs

Five councillors walked-out of a stormy North Ayrshire Council meeting last Wednesday (November 4) believing they had been blocked from discussing the cost to taxpayers of the local authority entering national workplace-related competitions and attending awards ceremonies.

Last month the3towns revealed North Ayrshire Council has spent £51,073 entering such competitions in the past year.  The figure was disclosed in response to a question from Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol (pictured).

However, at last Wednesday’s Council meeting, Cllr McNicol had tabled a further question, asking for confirmation from the SNP administration that the figure given in response to his first question included all costs related to entering competitions and attending awards ceremonies, such as “entry fee, cost of table at award ceremony, return travel to award ceremony, overnight accommodation/subsistence”.  The Independent councillor also wanted to know from which Council budget the £51,073 had come.

Council Chief Executive Elma Murray indicated that for the matter to be discussed again, Standing Orders would have to be suspended.  Standing Orders are the rules that govern how meetings of the Council operate, one of which states issues cannot be discussed again within six-months of the Council having taken a decision on the matter.  Ms Murray judged that the previous question and answer on costs of entering competitions and attending awards ceremonies constituted the matter having been decided by the Council.

In light of this decision, Cllr McNicol tabled a motion to suspend Standing Orders.  This would have allowed the second question to be heard.  However, suspension of Standing Orders requires a two-thirds majority of all councillors present and voting at a meeting.  With 29 councillors in attendance, a two-thirds majority would have required 20 votes.

When a vote was taken last Wednesday, all non-SNP councillors voted to suspend Standing Orders and allow further discussion on the costs of entering competitions and attending awards ceremonies, but with just 17 opposition members the total fell short of the required figure.

Despite minutes of the meeting showing no declarations of a party whip having been applied, all 12 SNP councillors decided to abstain in the vote.

With Cllr McNicol’s question therefore blocked from being heard, the Saltcoats & Stevenston member angrily walked-out of the meeting, followed by Liz McLardy (Independent – North Coast), Jim Montgomerie (Labour – Saltcoats & Stevenston) and Alan Munro (Labour – Saltcoats & Stevenston). 

Cllr John Hunter (Independent – Ardrossan & Arran) had tabled a question on Non-Domestic Rates and subsequently also left the meeting after asking his question.

Previously, Ronnie McNicol had questioned whether expenditure of over £50,000 in relation to entering competitions and attending awards ceremonies represented the best use of public money given North Ayrshire’s position as one of the most-deprived areas in Scotland.

Since November 2014 the council has entered 90 awards-contests, giving an average cost per entry of £567.

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