East Lothian Labour politicians have expressed their shock and anger at the suggestion by the SNP Group Deputy Leader Councillor Stuart Currie that East Lothian Council does not have a future in its current format.
Writing in his monthly blog, Cllr Currie stated: “It’s hard to argue for a local authority with much less than 200,000 of a population”. The current population within the East Lothian Council area is around 100,000.
He also writes: “Now we have changes coming on one police service and one fire service for Scotland then why have the NHS boards and local authorities survived the wind of change and efficiency?”.
Cllr Currie’s position raises the prospect of merger with a neighbouring authority, a move Labour in East Lothian believes would dilute the current crucial focus on local communities which a council the size of East Lothian is able to achieve.
Cllr Currie and his SNP colleagues in the previous council administration had initiated a shared services agenda with Midlothian which Labour feared was having a damaging effect on some services in East Lothian, and have started to roll back since returning to power. The views expressed in his blog appear to be an extension of the SNP’s shared services agenda.
The councillor’s comments have come to light just days after SNP Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill MSP was quoted as saying that the current number of councils and health boards in Scotland is ‘not tenable’.
Cllr Willie Innes, Leader of the Labour-led East Lothian Council administration, said:
“I was really shocked to read Cllr Stuart Currie's blog comments on the number and size of Scottish local authorities. It looks very much like he wants to do away with East Lothian Council, perhaps through a merger with Midlothian to reach his magic figure of 200,000 people. He certainly kept these views quiet in the run-up to May’s local elections.
“I’m sure many local people will share my anger about his new position on the council’s future. Labour will not tolerate SNP politicians selling East Lothian down the river in this way. We need to know if Cllr Currie’s SNP colleagues share his view on this vital issue and I call on Cllr Paul McLennan to clarify this as a matter of urgency.”
Local Labour MSP Iain Gray said:
“The SNP seem intent on centralising public services as far as they possibly can. They have already rushed through reforms to Scotland’s local police and fire services, and Kenny MacAskill has now indicated that they want to see Scotland’s NHS boards and local authorities slashed, potentially putting East Lothian in the firing line.
“Stuart Currie’s comments that he can’t support a council the size of East Lothian, confirms that some prominent local SNP politicians share Mr MacAskill’s view. I fear that the SNP’s position could now put the future of East Lothian Council at risk. If the SNP won't stand up for East Lothian, how can they be trusted to stand up for Scotland?”