Challenge to work together at Falkirk Council

Falkirk councillors have been challenged to leave the ‘gladiator style’ arguments behind and start co-operating ahead of a vital council budget meeting next month.

By Kirsty Paterson, LDR
Friday, 18th February 2022, 6:00 am
Falkirk Council Chief Executive Kenneth Lawrie. Picture Michael Gillen.
Falkirk Council Chief Executive Kenneth Lawrie. Picture Michael Gillen.

Chief executive, Kenneth Lawrie, made the plea as elected members wrangled over who was to blame for the recent damning report from the Accounts Commission which criticised “the slow pace of improvement”.

The Audit Scotland report said “All members need to demonstrate their ability to take difficult decisions on how the council is to transform its services for the people of Falkirk, and such decisions need to be implemented urgently.”

Addressing a council meeting on Tuesday, Mr Lawrie presented an action plan to address the failings identified, including improving induction for councillors.

Labour councillor Allyson Black had strong words for her fellow councillors on all sides as well as the officers who guide them. The former depute provost said she had many examples of where working together had made a huge difference.

But she warned: “You can’t work collaboratively if you aren’t treating each other respectfully. As a new councillor, I thought I’d be able to change the old, gladiator style of politics. But unfortunately, the gladiators won and the adversarial confrontational atmosphere continued.”

“It’s not easy to work collaboratively in those circumstances and that has to change. We also need to have conversations with our parties locally to make that change happen.”

Councillor Black – who last September broke the Labour whip to allow plans to proceed – also said it was time to be frank about the stalemate over a new HQ and arts centre: “It was a car crash waiting to happen and everyone blundered on regardless.

“A compromise should have been reached – it should not have been all or nothing from anyone involved.

“This is a lesson that must be learned – there has to be compromise from everyone.”

She added that working closely with council officers was important and that should mean being challenged and having “frank exchanges” that were nevertheless respectful. Mr Lawrie agreed: “Respect and the ability to talk openly about difficult and challenging issues do lie at the heart of collaborative working.”

All members were aware that much of the challenge will be taken up by a new council after May’s election and several members have said they will not be standing again.

As well as Allyson Black, Labour councillors Joan Coombes, Jim Blackwood and John McLuckie will not be standing.

SNP veteran David Alexander also announced he would be standing down, saying that it was “time for fresh blood”.

Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn also had sharp words for the Labour group who, she said, did not look to engage in creating policy but simply offered “bland amendments that take us nowhere”.

But while she said that ultimately the change was more likely to happen with new councillors coming on board, she agreed with Mr Lawrie that the forthcoming budget was a good opportunity to try out some collaborative working.

“We do have a budget before us and that is going to be critical to resetting for the new council coming in,” she said.

“I truly hope that there is the ability to have those constructive discussions and that we’ll demonstrate that we all do have the interests of all our citizens at heart and we will do our best to deliver for them, no matter what.”