Q&A with Douglas Lumsden, Conservative co-leader of Aberdeen City Council
Holyrood asks the new Aberdeen City Council leader about his experience of the role so far
Douglas Lumsden, Co-leader, Aberdeen City Council
Why did you choose to become a council leader?
Douglas Lumsden: I have lived and worked in Aberdeen most of my life and care passionately about the city’s future development. I want to help create a city that endures beyond the oil industry and is an attractive place for young people to live and work. I decided to stand for election in May and as a party we went from two councillors to 11, making us the largest party in the coalition. I wanted to make a change and this role gives me the opportunity to do just that.
Has being leader of the council been like what you expected so far?
DL: I was under no illusion that this would be a challenging role and that is exactly what it is. As a council we have some real challenges and decisions ahead that will require strong leadership. No two days are the same and having to deal with a wide range of queries from local ward issues to making key decisions affecting the whole city. I have no previous experience of local government, but I can bring the learnings I have from a number of years working in leadership roles in multinational corporations in how I approach the role and relationships necessary to make it a success.
How are you learning from your predecessor?
DL: I am in a fortunate position of being co-leader, with the other co-leader being Jenny Laing, who is the former council leader. We work very well together, with Jenny providing experience and helping me to navigate the administration while I bring a fresh outlook and new ideas.
What are you aiming to do differently from the previous administration?
DL: A strong council requires strong partnerships with both the devolved and UK Government. This has not always been the case in the past and I plan to improve those relationships. I also want to improve the local consultation process around some key projects. We are also looking at how we interact with key local businesses and important stakeholder groups.
What key changes have you set your sights on achieving?
DL: The energy sector has been and remains to be a very important sector in Aberdeen’s local economy, but we must diversify as we go forward. Food and drink, tourism and life sciences will be further developed as we look to have a greater mix of industries in the future. In this term we will see the opening of the long awaited bypass, the new harbour extension enabling us to enter the cruise ships and decommissioning market and also the opening of the £333m exhibition centre. So we have the building blocks we just need to capitalise on the investment. We also continue to invest in education with an emphasis on the STEM subjects as we build the workforce we need for the future.
What are the biggest challenges you are expecting in your area over the next few years?
DL: Like most other local authorities, our biggest challenge will be financial. As a council we need to save £125m over the next five years. This will mean looking critically at everything we do – our processes and systems, using technology as much as possible to be more efficient and also looking at other opportunities to raise revenue. The aim is to reduce costs without reducing frontline services, and I think local authorities need to become more innovative and commercial in our thinking as to how we might achieve that. Our finance team has recently won awards for financial innovation, which gives us a great platform to develop in this area. We were the first Scottish council to gain a credit rating and issue a bond on the London Stock Exchange to enable us to invest in capital projects to provide a future revenue stream.
How have you found it so far being in coalition? Is it a challenge to find common ground?
DL: Being in a coalition has been relatively straightforward so far: the Conservative, Aberdeen Labour and independent groups all share the same goal of doing the best for the city of Aberdeen. I can honestly say that party politics very rarely gets discussed; it is all about what we can do locally.
There is still a significant gender imbalance in councils. How would you encourage more women to become councillors?
DL: I think it all starts with getting more women becoming members of political parties, then local associations will be in a better position to encourage more women to stand. This comes from the grass roots and encouraging involvement in the political debate more amongst students and young people. I think the current political landscape, regardless of individual political views, is doing a lot to help that. In Aberdeen City Council, however, we have six top councillor roles, three are men and three are women, so there is no lack of talent.
If you were completely free to reform local government in Scotland, what would you change?
DL: As a city we would should have greater controls over taxation, planning and spending. This would give us the freedom to drive economic growth and compete on the world stage for investment. I would also argue for the funding settlement to be made fairer and for local authorities to keep all of their business rates income.
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