Council plans have ‘crossed a red line’

Stonehaven library
Stonehaven library

Stonehaven and District Community Council Chairperson Phil Mills-Bishop has reacted angrily to proposals by Aberdeenshire Council to transfer ownership of their Sports and Culture services to a charitable trust.

Mr Mills-Bishop was referring to a report due to go before Full Council next week (Thursday November 24) which states that a preferred option for the future of services including sports centres, swimming pools, libraries, museums and community centres would see them go into ownership of a charitable trust run by a board of directors.

Library interior

Library interior

An Aberdeenshire Council spokesperson said that at the meeting next week, councillors will discuss the best way to consult with the public and stakeholders about the proposals.

In a report put before the Education, Learning and Leisure Committee in October, elected members heard that there is an estimated Council saving of £1 million if the plan goes ahead. It also states that, if the Full Council decide to back the plans, “it is anticipated that a trust could be in place and delivering services by January 1 2018”.

The report adds that this could be an anxious time for employees, and says: “every effort will be made to ensure appropriate timely communication and support is provided at a local level.”

Mr Mills-Bishop said of the plans: “It is a nonsense and affront to local democracy and communities who have not been consulted. For myself as Chair of the Stonehaven Community Council; many others on the Community Council and the wider Community this proposal has crossed a “red line” - the Council should be protecting a treasured local service and institution such as Public Libraries rather than trying to hawk them off to third Party Trusts.

“There are many inherent dangers with “trusts and trustees” (yet Aberdeenshire Council sees them as a panacea) who are very much self-appointed and are accountable to no-one but themselves. At least with the Library Service in Aberdeenshire Council’s hands the Community can addresses concerns both to Officials and elected Members who have to take note because they are elected by the Communities they purport to serve.

“I wish to make it very clear as an open message to the Chairperson of the Education, Learning & Leisure Committee Councillor Alison Evison that the Community Council does not support this intention. It is very much an Officer led proposal to streamline and effect budgetary saving.”

Cllr Evison commented: “Discussions about whether the council should adopt an alternative delivery model for sports and leisure services are still at a very early stage.

“There was a preliminary paper at the last Education Learning and Leisure Committee. Councillors responded to this paper by agreeing that council should consider the most appropriate way to engage with members of the public and local councillors before making any decision. Staff are also involved in discussions.

“It is really important to us that we hear opinions from across Aberdeenshire. Consideration is being given to alternative delivery models because we need to think of the best way to sustain services into the future.”