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Council tax war as opposition try to freeze Argyll and Bute leaders out of office

Municipal Buildings in Oban, Argyll and Bute | Alamy

Council tax war as opposition try to freeze Argyll and Bute leaders out of office

Council leaders who U-turned over the council tax freeze could be forced out of office as opponents lodge a bid to topple the administration.

Argyll and Bute Council refused to adopt the Scottish Government's council tax freeze and announced a 10 per cent hike for billpayers – before squeezing more money out of ministers and agreeing to reconsider the move.

A special meeting is due to be held next month and Robin Currie, leader of the 36-member council, has called for colleagues to agree to the freeze.

The change comes after wellbeing economy secretary Màiri McAllan agreed to hand over £2.3m to address the impact of the severe weather that hit the region in the autumn.

But a 15-strong band of SNP, Labour and independent councillors have now launched an attempt to wrest control of the administration.

Known as the Argyll and Bute Strategic Opposition Partnership, the group has lodged a bid to remove the ruling Lib Dem, Conservative and independent team.

It has submitted 15 individual letters to requisition a special meeting at the start of April and vote in a new leader and provost, removing all other political appointees pending a vote later in the month.

Other "like-minded councillors" are invited to join them.

The local budget that included the council tax rise passed by just two votes.

The partnership has called the increase "reckless and completely unnecessary" and accused the administration of "indecisive, clandestine and weak leadership" leading to an "embarrassing climb-down".

Jim Lynch, the SNP leader of the opposition, said: "In this time of economic instability and a cost-of-living crisis, Argyll and Bute Council requires strong leadership and positive solutions, rather than the uncertainty and callous politicking we are witnessing at present.

"It is clear to us that public trust in the current administration is incredibly low. Questionable decision-making over vital local issues such as Rothesay Pavilion, Luing Primary School, the Mull Campus, and the ongoing council tax debacle has caused real damage in our communities, which we simply must work hard to repair.

"Too much time has already been wasted, and we need to get on with backing the Scottish Government's council tax freeze and sending the reduced bills out to households."

Independent Dougie Philand, depute leader of the group, said: "For far too long the ruling group of councillors has been able to play political football with the important decisions that impact the daily lives of our constituents, and this must be stopped.

"We hope that by providing every councillor with an opportunity to add their signature alongside ours to call for a change in leadership, we will finally be able to bring an end to the political chaos we have seen in recent years and ensure that nothing like the council tax shambles can happen again."

Responding, Currie told Holyrood: "Our ability to consider a council tax freeze has depended on the very welcome £2.3m severe weather support that the Scottish Government has now confirmed for Argyll and Bute. We secured this funding for Argyll and Bute after months of positive engagement between the council leadership and the Scottish Government. This positive engagement started immediately after the severe weather in October last year and has continued over the course of this year.

"The facts are clear. Without the overall improvement in our circumstances that the severe weather funding brings, the funding offered solely in relation to the freeze was not enough on its own to avoid serious threats to vital services and jobs both now and in future years, where we are facing very significant challenges indeed. Tackling those challenges is always my priority and focus.

"It is a fact that council leaders must always bear that longer-term picture in mind and face up to difficult decisions, no matter how tempting it may be to make an easier or less effective/responsible choice for short-term gain and popularity."

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