OPPOSITION councillors have hit out at Aberdeenshire Council plans to scrap adverts for members’ surgeries - and replace them with Facebook pages to solve constituency problems.
• Council officials looking to save £8000 a year on newspaper adverts
• Move attacked as “further obstacle between voters and councillors”
Senior council officials are recommending that newspaper advertisements for individual councillor’s surgeries should be banned to save £8000 a year in costs.
And they are proposing that, as an alternative system, councillors should turn to the the social networking site to “promote engagement with their constituents.”
Councillors will also be handed ten posters which they can display on local public buildings under the plans.
The controversial switch is due to be debated at a meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee on Thursday. But it has already been condemned by opposition SNP councillors.
Bryan Stuart, the SNP councillor for Inverurie and District, claimed the move will only make it more difficult for members of the public to gain access their councillors.
He said: “The costs involved are minimal and the ban on letting people know through their local paper when their councillors are available just serves to place a further obstacle between the voters and those elected to serve them at a time when we should be encouraging more contact, not resorting to secrecy by hiding information from those without access to computers.”
Councillor Stuart continued: “I simply see it as part of my job to be available to my constituents, regardless of who they voted for or indeed whether they voted at all, although I appreciate some councillors don’t hold surgeries. Councillors are there to serve their local communities and I said when I stood for election that I would strive to do my best and that’s what I hope to continue to do.
“It’s difficult to do your best to be accessible though if the council won’t advertise to let the public know that their elected representatives are holding surgeries. Not everyone is on Facebook or the internet and newspapers are still the first place many people turn to for local information.”
Proposals for the “new approach” to advertising councillor surgeries are being recommended in a report to the committee by Kate Bond, the council’s head of customer communication and improvement.
She states: “Present arrangements allocate up to ten advertisements in the local newspapers to each councillor, every year. However, some newspapers are expensive and many council wards cross the media’s distribution arrangements – resulting in councillors requiring multiple adverts.
“There are many ways for residents to access information about council services, and details of councillor surgeries, utilising more modern methods of communications like social media.”
The report recommends a new system involving a basic advertisement which will appear once a month in a local newspapers in each area covered by Aberdeenshire, pointing constituents to the council’s own website for information about how to contact their local councillors.
Ms Bond continues: “Every councillor will be provided with ten posters which they can display in local public buildings. The posters will provide photos and contact details of all councillors in the ward. Press releases can be issued to the local media for any councillor wishing to promote a surgery and information will also be added to the website.
“Each councillor will be supported to set up their own Facebook page to promote engagement with their constituents. Training and support can be provided, but the ownership of the pages will remain with councillors These tools can be used to engage directly with residents and also to promote times and dates of surgeries where required.”
According to the report, the current system or advertising councillors’ surgeries cost around £8,000 a year, plus unspecified staffing costs for managing individual advertisements for councillors.
Ms Bond states: “The new approach of advertising in the local weekly press would cost around £3,600 a year.”