New leader, Provost and Depute Provost elected as Labour Group abstains

The new look Falkirk Council 2017
The new look Falkirk Council 2017

The SNP took official charge of Falkirk Council on Wednesday thanks to the 12 seats it won at last month’s local government election making it the largest party.

Before the start of the official business, Chief Executive Mary Pitcaithly led a minute’s silence in respect for those killed in the Manchester Arena atrocity.

On their first day in official charge of the town hall for the first time in 10 years, the Nationalists enjoyed a mixed bag.

In what was probably an early insight into how things in the Municipal Buildings are going to go in the foreseeable future, it was able to elect Councillor Tom Coleman as Provost, Councillor Ann Ritchie as his deputy and SNP Group leader Cecil Meiklejohn as leader all by the same 13 to eight margin.

They were successful against the nominations put forward by the Conservatives, John Patrick, Lynn Munro and Martin Nicol respectively, but that was only possible after the nine-strong Labour Group opted to put no nominations forward themselves and abstain from all three votes.

Later however, after the minority administration attempted to reduce the number of senior portfolio positions on the council from nine to five - a move that would have saved £30,000 a year in wages - Labour and the Tories joined forces to have the idea scrapped by 17 votes to 13.

Before that, Councillor Ritchie, a second-term member after retaining her seat in the Bo’ness and Blackness Ward on May 4, was possibly slightly embarrassed after being nominated as group’s second choice for depute provost after Councillor Meiklejohn initially offered it to Labour’s Alan Nimmo.

When he refused to step over the official Scottish Labour line and declined, Councillor Ritchie stepped up.

Independent Billy Buchanan, Bonnybridge and Larbert, voted for Tory Councillors Patrick, Munro and Nicol for the jobs, while Independent Robert Spears, Grangemouth, supported Councillors Coleman, Ritchie and Meiklejohn.

Councillor Malcolm Nicol, leader of the Tory Group which boosted it presence from two to seven seats after the May poll, pledged his group will provide “constructive opposition” in the chamber, and warned: “We are the party that gained seats at the last election and mindful the majority of people in this country voted to remain in the Union.

“The SNP should focus on the day job which is to deliver efficient public services to the people of Falkirk district at a reasonable cost. That will get our support.”

In a call for all the various groups to work together, Provost Coleman told the council: “Given the result of the election, this is going to be difficult for everyone here. We have to show maturity because we represent the hopes and aspirations of 170,000 people in Falkirk.

“We should draw a line under things that happened 20 or 30 years ago and ditch the past because it is irrelevant.”

During a first meeting that was interrupted by ‘time outs’ to allow groups to discuss who they will put forward for individual committees, the council agreed to scrap the role of Baillie – Councillor Meiklejohn said the positions had “no particular value” – and agreed the ‘wages’ of elected members should remain the same at £16,927 a year.

The leader of the council will earn £33,857, the Provost, as the council’s civic head, £23,179 and senior councillors who will be ‘portfolio holders’ responsible for key services £22,689.