TIME LOCAL DEMOCRACY WAS RESTORED

Mark McGeever and Liberal Democrats call for end to officials’ emergency powers as Lockdown ends

EMERGENCY powers delegated to the council’s top officials must now return to elected councillors, argue South Lanarkshire’s Liberal Democrats.

When the nationwide lockdown began in March local authorities allowed urgent decisions to be made by appointed officers.

It was widely seen as the only way councils could immediately respond to the many issues caused by the crisis.

With lockdown set to end the Liberal Democrats believe decisions must again be made by people who are accountable to the public.

Hamilton West and Earnock’s Cllr Mark McGeever, the deputy leader of South Lanarkshire’s Liberal Democrats, said: “It is no criticism of the council’s officials to say local democracy has to be restored.

“People across our communities are working remotely and taking part in meetings online. Many have to go into work but are staying two metres away from each other.

“After more than two months there has certainly been enough time to put measures in place that would enable the full council and all its committees to operate.

“The Scottish Parliament is functioning. Even the House of Commons, which is not well-known for embracing modern ways of working, has allowed its members to take part in debates both in Westminster and over video-link.

“It is unthinkable that this council cannot hold sessions where members in the chamber sit two metres apart while others dial-in from home.

“The council has serious issues to tackle and important decisions to take – it is crucial elected councillors are able to provide proper scrutiny and decisions have democratic legitimacy.”

Official council sessions remain suspended despite businesses throughout the country finding ways to hold meetings without staff being in the same room.

Plans sent to elected members by officials confirm all committees scheduled for June will be cancelled.

Rutherglen South councillor Robert Brown, the Liberal Democrat group leader, said: “We have reached the point where decisions will inevitably have long-term consequences for local services. 

“It is therefore essential they are taken by our communities’ democratically elected councillors, with proper debate and scrutiny.

“I’m grateful for the approach officers have adopted while the council could not meet. 

“They have sought out the views of each of the political groups, responded to our concerns and tried to act only where there is cross-party agreement.

“As we move beyond the initial phase of this crisis however, there will inevitably be different views on local priorities and the options the council should take.

“Those decisions can only be legitimately made by democratically elected local councillors who are chosen by the public and accountable to them.”

Education and social care were highlighted as local services facing huge impact requiring councillors’ attention.

Cllr Fiona Dryburgh represents East Kilbride South and is the Liberal Democrats’ business manager. She said: “The need for decisions to be made by elected councillors is becoming more and more clear as the weeks go on.

“Sadly, care homes throughout Scotland have been hit by tragedy on an unthinkable scale.

“Residents, service-users, their families and care workers all need to know there is proper, transparent scrutiny of decision-making that affects their lives and wellbeing.

“There will have to be massive changes to how schools operate before pupils return in August. 

“Our young people, their parents and school staff all deserve to know decisions that affect them are made by councillors who have to justify ourselves to the public.

“This crisis has an enormous impact on our communities. That is not going to stop any time soon, so elected councillors have to be making the decisions that will get us through.”