Iain Gray MSP has welcomed Labour-led East Lothian Council’s bid to challenge the SNP Government’s decision to rubber stamp changes to the authority’s ward boundaries, which would cause significant disruption to local communities, and also reduce the number of local councillors by one.
Throughout the current review of ward boundaries, Mr Gray and Labour colleagues on East Lothian Council have argued that the proposed changes will disrupt longstanding ties between communities, cut across school catchment areas, and set back local partnership working. There could even be large additional long term costs.
Mr Gray raised these concerns at Holyrood last week when Boundary Commission representatives gave evidence to the Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee. But the Commission’s responses shed little light on the reasons for proposing such disruptive changes.
Neither could they offer an explanation for why SNP Minister Joe Fitzpatrick failed to listen to East Lothian’s concerns while rejecting the commission’s plans in other parts of Scotland, including his own area of Dundee.
Iain Gray MSP said:
“This is nothing to do with Party interest – it is all about defending East Lothian from being singled out for an illogical attack on our local democracy. East Lothian has the fastest growing population of any local authority area in Scotland, with the number of residents here predicted to grow by nearly 25 per cent over the next 20 years. Given this soaring population, it just seems to fly in the face of common sense that East Lothian should be facing a reduction in its number of councillors.
“When the Commission was giving evidence at Holyrood I took the chance to attend, because I wanted to ask them what had possessed them to recommend these changes. It means councillors will find it harder to respond to constituents, stay in touch with schools and other local organisations, and devote enough time to local issues in their ward. What is more, the change has meant a redrawing of boundaries which has divided many communities from those with which they have the closest links.
“The bottom line is that these changes will be hugely disruptive, and are simply unnecessary. I commend the Labour leadership of East Lothian Council for sticking by the principles they have set out throughout this process. They are doing the right thing in pursuing legal action, not only for communities directly affected, but also for all local taxpayers, who could face substantial long term costs as a result of these ill-thought through changes.
“What makes this whole mess doubly annoying is the fact that the SNP Minister in charge of this process has rejected a number of the commission’s other proposals, including in his own area of Dundee, but rubber stamped the East Lothian scheme. As usual, the interests of East Lothian are far down the SNP Government's priorities.”
Cllr Willie Innes, Labour Leader of East Lothian Council, added:
“We have been absolutely consistent in our support for ward boundaries which support historic community ties. That position had enjoyed cross-party support until SNP Ministers rubber stamped the Boundary Commission’s plans to introduce significant disruption to local communities.
“It appears that SNP leader Cllr Currie has now been ordered by SNP Ministers to change his position. He has simply rolled over and agreed to what his party bosses in Edinburgh have told him to do. As usual, when SNP Ministers say jump, the only question on the lips of local SNP representatives is how high?
“This failure to stand up for East Lothian in the face of SNP Government cuts and centralisation is becoming an all too familiar pattern. We’ve seen it on the closure of Haddington’s Courts, removal of local traffic wardens, lack of school attainment funding, overturned local planning decisions and now the ward boundaries.
“Whenever SNP councillors face a choice between standing by their party, or standing up for East Lothian’s interests, the party wins every time. East Lothian Labour will always be stronger for East Lothian and put the county’s interests first. That is why we are carrying on the fight to try and reverse these damaging boundary changes.”