Peter H J de Vink: local government can be a trial if skills aren’t there

Midlothian Councillor Peter de Vink
Midlothian Councillor Peter de Vink
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PETER H J de Vink bemoans a lack of financial nous and relevant training in council corridors

Democracy requires that those elected should represent those that voted them in.

When I entered local politics aged 72, I was stunned by the complexities of local government.

Huge tomes of documents were given to me to read, and I was certain that most of the elected representatives would struggle to grasp what was included in those works.

While I had wanted all of the councillors to sit an IQ test and ask those who scored less than 90 to gracefully retire, I realised this drastic initiative would cause an outcry and would be dismissed by all of those likely to score less than 115.

In my local authority in 2012, there was no idea that the people we represented were not just voters but were effectively our customers. Fortunately today we have made great progress to achieve a more customer service approach.

There is no doubt that senior officials in local government are of high quality but they are also reliant on being instructed by elected representatives.

Therefore it follows that those who are elected should have the skills and competence to deal with their fiduciary responsibilities.

To my surprise I was often told by my fellow administration members that we were not a business.

How come that, when we had to balance the books and were 
responsible for a budget of some £250 milllion? If a company like DC Thomson, UK Airports, Devro and many others with a similar level of turnover had a board of directors of equal competence of our elected representatives I would fear the worst for these significant economic levers.

The Finance Convenor of a local authority has to have a grasp of numeracy.

He or she should also be of an impeccable financial reputation.

Audit Scotland rightly complains that elected representatives lack the necessary financial skills and finds it very frustrating that the different efforts to send them on training sessions are not taken up.

This is a serious situation made worse by a habit that local politics is so often dictated by the national parties.

The SNP embraces the No Compulsory Redundancy Policy.

This is the most disastrous of their many diktats and throttles economic growth as one is unable to cut the payroll and one can only cut services.

Any local authority should have dealt with the payroll if they are to be a prudent, responsible and practical organisation.

This policy has created a morale-sapping-colossus where authorities have, on the one hand, many of their devoted staff straining and stretching simply to fulfill the needs of their customers, and on the other people sitting at their desks doing little. How can they ever hope to win through?

• Peter H J de Vink is an independent councillor for Midlothian Council and is managing director of Edinburgh Financial & General Holdings Ltd.