Tories ‘threatened to disband Edinburgh Council’

Edinburgh City Council Chambers. Picture: TSPL

Edinburgh City Council Chambers. Picture: TSPL

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THE Tory government in 1985 plotted to replace Labour run Edinburgh City Council with an unelected commission if it did not agree to cut its budget by £8 million, newly released government papers have revealed.

The papers released today show that the then Scottish Secretary George Younger feared that Edinburgh City Council could become a Scottish version of Liverpool which was in effect run by its then deputy leader the infamous Militant Derek Hatton.

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Edinburgh had been a Conservative run city until 1984 when a shock victory by Labour under the leftwing leadership of Alex Wood had seen the Tories put into opposition in Scotland’s capital city.

Mr Wood, who was considered by many of his colleagues as “far left”, then set about provoking Margaret Thatcher’s government by pushing up the rates to high levels.

Mr Younger decided to take the council to court to force it to cut its rates by 7p and also reduce its housing budget in a case the government won.

In a letter to the Prime Minister ated 31 July 1985, reporting the next moves after the victory released in the National Archive, Mr Younger outlined his plans to take on the council after the court victory.

He noted: “The Labour group are at present considering what action to take. Judging from press reports, they may be tempted to some form of creative accounting to avoid having to make full cuts implied by the rate reduictions.”

He said his two options would be to “give special consent for the Council to borrow” or “replace the council with commissioners” by including Scotland in legislation being drafted for Liverpool by the then Environment Secretary Patrick Jenkin.

Underlining that he preferred the second option, Mr Younger said: “Unless I hear to the contrary from the lord President [Willie Whitelaw] I should like to assume that I have approval to draft a contingency Scottish basis provisions for inclusion in the commissioner legislation.”

He added: “If Scotland were not covered and Edinburgh is still confronting the Government, it would give entirely the wrong signal for Edinburgh.”

However, the Scottish Secretary did not have to take further action against the council because on 1 August the Labour group accepted his demands and cut its spending by £8 million and reduce its rate by 7p.

On 30 August Mrs Thatcher wrote a personal note to Mr Younger: “I was delighted to see your minute with its news on the Edinburgh budget. This success is due in no small way to your efforts and those of your staff - my congratulations to all concerned.”

The defeat led to the replacement of Mr Wood with Mark Lazarowicz as Labour group and council leader but it did not restore the Tory fortunes in the city with the Tories never regaining control.

Mr Lazarowicz, now MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, told The Scotsman: “We were not aware that there were plans to replace us with a commission. But the dispute was over the direction we were taking and we had a very leftwing leader. Most of us wanted to take a more sensible approach which is why we decided to agree to the demands and I became the leader.”

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