Public left on the outside?

THE RECENT decision by Angus Council to seek a judicial review of the Scottish education secretary Mike Russell’s reasons for calling in the Arbroath ‘superschool’ project has angered a local lady who has written to her local councillor on the matter.

Reader Mrs Fiona McClymont has expressed her dissatisfaction with the conduct of Angus Council to Councillor Helen Oswald.

She said: “The local authority appears to have no concept of open and transparent administration or their duty to respect the opinions and wishes of the public.

“It was clear from the Arbroath Herald’s online poll that 82 per cent of those who participated were opposed to Angus Council seeking a judicial review of the Scottish government’s decision.

“This is an extremely serious issue that impacts on the democratic rights of everyone residing in Angus.

In her communication to Councillor Oswald, who is leader of the SNP Group on Angus Council, Mrs McClymont states: “I am aware that the council has voted to proceed with seeking a judicial review in connection with the (schools) project.

“It is of concern to me that the public do not know any of the reasoning behind this decision because they were excluded from the meeting when the issue was discussed. I also note that on the Angus Council website it is stated that, as the council is proceeding with legal action, it does not intend to make any further comment.

“The Arbroath Herald has conducted an online poll regarding the council’s decision in respect of those legal proceedings. This morning 82 per cent of those who had participated were opposed to the council’s proposal to seek a judicial review.”

She asked: “Will the council continue to disregard public opinion?”

Mrs McClymont went on: “Is there anything further that councillors who are opposed to this unfair situation can / intend to do? It appears to me that both the director of education and the education convener have dug themselves into a hole and are prepared to take any action to ‘save face’ regardless of the cost to the people of Angus.”

Councillor Oswald responded: “This matter has been well-rehearsed in the press with Councillor Nield stating that the council will go to judicial review, so it seems the decision has already been made.

“My group believes democracy would best be served by absolute openness and transparency in the decision-making process. I believe the council’s head of legal services will tell us that where legal advice is being given, provision is made for this to be heard in private. There is however, no compulsion so the final decision lies with the members of this council.

“There have been so many statements in the press by all sides - I’m not saying ‘both sides’ because the advice I was given is that the council is ‘our side’ and the Scottish Government is the ‘other side’.  Where does that put the public?”

She concluded: “I would venture that this leaves them on the outside.

“If we are going to commit this council to a legal battle, we must allow the public who put us here to understand why.

“I firmly believe it is in the public interest for this matter to be heard in public.”

Another Arbroath Herald reader who declined to be named said he thought that the decision to seek a judicial review was a total waste of money.

He went on: “In these times of financial stringency when budgets are being cut and grants are being reduced I find it ludicrous that so much money is to be taken from the public purse to pursue what seems to be an unattainable dream of the Angus Alliance.

“The education secretary has made his decision and I can see little likelihood of this being reversed in law.

“What will the action achieve for such a huge sum of money?”

A spokesperson for Angus Council commented: “Legislation allows the council to take reports in private to consider advice in connection with any legal proceedings by or against the authority.”