Falkirk Council: New Provost and council leader elected

A deal has not been reached to take control of Falkirk Council, with the SNP now planning to run a minority administration.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 25th May 2022, 4:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 25th May 2022, 4:54 pm

SNP group leader Cecil Meiklejohn has been returned as the leader of Falkirk Council while Labour’s Robert Bissett has been elected as the new Provost.

With no formal coalition arranged between any of the parties ahead of the meeting, voting between the different groups was so tight that it required cutting a deck of playing cards for the appointment one position.

The SNP are the largest single party, with 12 councillors out of 30.

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SNP councillors elected to Falkirk Council (missing David Balfour) will form a minority adminstration

The meeting promised a greater spirit of co-operation for Falkirk Council, which was strongly criticised in a report by the Accounts Commission earlier this year.

Both SNP leader Cllr Meiklejohn and the new Labour group leader Anne Hannah pledged to look for common ground and that spirit of co-operation was evident as the first appointment was made, with Labour councillor Robert Bissett elected as Provost of Falkirk.

Provost Bissett was elected with the support of the SNP group, comfortably seeing off a challenge from Conservative James Kerr, who got five votes.

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Robert Bissett is the new Provost of Falkirk

In the election for leader, Cllr Meiklejohn did not get any votes from any other political party – crucially, however, the nine-strong Labour group abstained, as did all four Independents.

The role of Depute Provost will be taken by SNP Grangemouth councillor David Balfour, although this was more closely contested with Labour putting up their own candidate.

Mr Balfour got 12 votes while Independent councillor Brian McCabe got three, Conservative James Kerr got five and Labour’s Alan Nimmo got nine.

As no-one had enough votes to win, the candidates with the least votes dropped out and after three rounds of voting, Mr Balfour remained at 12 votes narrowly beating Mr Nimmo with 11.

As they have formed the administration, the SNP will take convenership of the powerful Executive and the Education, Children and Young People executive.

There was some controversy around how the Independent councillors will be represented.

Three of the Interdependent councillors – Brian McCabe, Ann Ritchie and Robert Spears – have registered as an official group of Non-Aligned Independents, which gives them the right to representation on committees.

However, Councillor Billy Buchanan, who is Independent, but not part of the group said that he was afraid this would mean he would lose all representation.

In a head-to-head vote, Cllr Buchanan won the Independent’s place on the Planning committee and then also beat SNP councillor Gary Bouse to become convener of the committee.

Voting was even tighter for the position of depute convener of Planning, which at the end of three rounds of voting was tied at 15 each for Gary Bouse and new Labour councillor Alf Kelly.

In the end, a pack of pristine playing cards was produced and Mr Kelly chose a 10, winning him the position.

While SNP and Labour groups did not vote together, neither chose to support the Conservatives who failed at every turn to have a member elected to a position.

Speaking after the meeting, the newly elected Conservative councillor for Falkirk North, James Bundy, claimed that Labour were “propping up the SNP’s failing administration”.

He said: “During the recent council election campaign, the Falkirk Conservatives promised our voters to present an alternative council administration.

“Today, however, the Labour Party decided to prop up a failing SNP administration.”

“Falkirk needs a council that has a vision to invest in the energy supply of Upper Braes, a vision to invest in the rejuvenation of our High Street, and a vision to invest in reaching our Net Zero commitments.

“With Labour deciding to prop up the SNP, however, Falkirk will continue to have an administration that refuses to stand up to SNP cuts from Edinburgh.Falkirk deserves better.”

The Labour group leader, Anne Hannah, was forced to attend the meeting remotely as she has Covid.

She said that Falkirk Labour had explored the possibility of a formal agreement with one or more other parties but decided against seeking any formal coalition or agreement.

She said that they were committed to collaborative working on issues that all councillors were concerned bout including the cost of living crisis, dealing with the climate emergency and regenerating the district’s town centres.

“There are major challenges ahead, and I look forward to working with Councillors of all parties and none, and with officers at all levels within the Council to get the best deal possible for the people of the Falkirk area,” she said.

The leader of the council, Cecil Meiklejohn, also said that her party was determined to work collaboratively.

She said: “It is up to all councillors to make the effort in terms of collaboration. Our communities didn’t vote for more of the same, they want to see the council work together to make a difference.

“The SNP have been clear that we are ready to work for the benefit of our communities and we believe wholeheartedly that is a principle all councillors, of every party and none, should aspire to.”

Other convenerships agreed included: Internal Scrutiny – Brian McCabe (Ind); External Scrutiny – Claire Brown (Con); Appeals Committee – Gary Bouse; Civic Licensing – Euan Stainbank; Pensions – Lorna Binnie.

The council was unable to finish all of the business on the agenda and will meet next Wednesday at 10am to continue the agenda.