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May 4, 2016

Council dismantles local democracy

Councils are under pressure like never before, and mistakes will inevitably be made. So it is conceivable that the recent bizarre decision of Dumfries and Galloway Council to dissolve nearly half of its community councils at a stroke, could be explained away as some kind of bureaucratic error. However the Council remains convinced it is in the right. An administrative detail (D&G Council is the only council in Scotland to apply it) is considered so important that thirty eight fully functioning community councils have been told they no longer exist. It beggars belief.

Galloway Gazette

Community councils in Galloway forced to disband last week over failure to ratify a constitution will be able to re-establish themselves as soon as July, council chiefs announced yesterday.

A spokesman for Dumfries and Galloway Council said: “By-elections will be held on July 7, and 33 of these communities have applied to be re-established. The remaining communities are considering next steps or planning to apply for re-establishment in the near future.

“Prior to this, one community council was already considering establishing itself as a community group rather than a formal community council, and they have now confirmed they wish to do so.

“We will now be in contact with the 33 community councils to advise them of the process which will now be followed.

“Community councils play a vital role in our local communities across a range of issues.

“We recognise the time that individuals devote voluntarily to service their communities.

“During April, we confirmed, following legal advice, that 37 community councils had dissolved themselves for failing to properly adopt constitutions. This followed a complaint by a member of the public and was not a position we wanted community councils to be in, so council staff have been working to ensure these groups can be re-established at the earliest opportunity. A notice of election to seek nominations in the affected communities will be placed in the local press in the coming weeks.

At a meeting in Kirkcudbright on Wednesday evening, ex-members of the dissolved community councils decided to write jointly to the council about what one community representative called “its high-handed”. He added: “We all agreed that the council has overstepped the mark.

“Those at the meeting expect an apology and a reversal of the dissolution of nearly half the community councils in the region, which many regard as ultra vires and an affront to local democracy.”

John Thom, the provost of New Galloway, added: “We will be carrying on as normal and representing the community as best we can, sitting as the Royal Burgh Council – which was never repealed.”

One of the serious problems now faced by some local communities is the disruption of emergency services set up to respond to adverse weather and the withdrawal of insurance cover by the Regional Council.

In Newton Stewart, ex-members of Cree Valley Community Council, which was also dissolved, held an emergency meeting last Thursday night when all agreed they would stand for election but following that process though could delay getting a representative body for the area until the autumn.

A statement from the group said: “The volunteers who were elected to serve on the Cree Valley Community Council were actively involved in many ongoing issues in its area. Issues such as, flood prevention, flood resilience, repairs and cleaning of the Cree Bridge and the Earl of Galloway Monument, refurbishment of the foot path from Ewart Drive to Windsor Road, repairs to pavements including the installation of tactile slabs where appropriate, improvements to the A75 junctions at Palnure and New Galloway road junction, Christmas lights installation and removal, bus route negotiations, waste recycling issues, planning applications as well as the distribution of the wind farm community fund and the joint operation to collect and distribute the flood fund donations with Newton Stewart Initiative.

“We regret that all this work is now on hold until the group can re-establish itself, this could take up to three months to organise, however all elected members have agreed to stand again for election and we hope that we can get back to working for our community with the help of the local authority and without delay.