New city chiefs accused of boards power grab

THE city’s new Labour-SNP coalition was today accused of a fresh “power grab” after opposition councillors were excluded from a series of key appointments.

Tories complained they had been shut out from posts traditionally shared between members of all parties in the council.

They highlighted the Pentlands Hills Regional Park consultative forum where the coalition pushed through the appointment of Labour Portobello/Craigmillar councillor David Walker alongside local SNP councillor Bill Henderson rather than allow local Tory Dominic Heslop to replace his predecessor Alastair Paisley.

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Labour council leader Andrew Burns said Cllr Walker had a “specific interest” in being on the forum.

The full council meeting yesterday also approved the appointment of Labour’s Maureen Child as chair of the audit committee, which scrutinises council decisions, a move previously compared to allowing News International to run the Leveson inquiry.

Tory group leader Jeremy Balfour said the traditional practice of an opposition councillor chairing the committee had given the scrutiny process some independence.

He said: “For an administration councillor to chair the committee and to be independent will be difficult for her.”

The Tories nominated their own Allan Jackson, who has chaired the committee for nearly a decade, but were defeated.

Cllr Balfour said: “I understand they have a large majority and they can do anything they want. It seems they are just grabbing as much power into the centre and not necessarily thinking about what will give us the best governance for the city.”

Cllr Heslop said it was difficult to see why a Portobello member had a greater claim to a seat on the Pentland Hills forum than a Pentland Hills councillor.

He said: “Andrew Burns initially talked about the Big Tent, but to get into the Big Tent you clearly have to be a card- carrying member of the SNP or Labour.

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“Any hope for an inclusive cross-party approach to solving issues in this city has gone out of the window.

“Welcome to five years of absolute control by this administration.”

Cllr Burns, however, dismissed the Tory complaints and said opposition councillors had been appointed to many of the 93 outside bodies where the council nominated members.

He also defended Cllr Child’s role, saying it was a temporary appointment until a shake-up of the council’s structures later in the summer.

He insisted the new coalition, which has 38 of the 58 seats on the council, was taking a much more inclusive approach than the previous administration.

He said: “We are going to review all the structures and the opposition parties will be involved in that review. We are having fortnightly meetings of all the group leaders.”

Committee set to give public power of petition

CITY residents are to be given a new avenue for pursuing issues with the council.

Councillors agreed to set up a new petitions committee, which will allow the public to bring their concerns direct to those in power.

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Details of how the new system will work have yet to be finalised, but the council is expected to agree a plan in August, ready for the committee to start work in the autumn.

Council leader Andrew Burns said the idea had been used successfully in several other councils and by the Scottish Parliament.

He said: “It allows people to get a hearing in a non-confrontational setting. It doesn’t mean the committee is always going to agree, but it means things will be put on the agenda.

“Our new contract with the city marks a fresh start for Edinburgh. This is a council that will listen to, and work with, local people.”

Taking a seat

How some of the jobs have been shared out:

• Edinburgh Airport consultative committee: Lesley Hinds (Lab), Jim Orr (SNP)

• Edinburgh International Festival: Lord Provost, Norma Austin-Hart (Lab), Gordon Munro (Lab), Deidre Brock (SNP), Richard Lewis (SNP), Joanna Mowat (Con), Maggie Chapman (Green)

• Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival: Eric Milligan (Lab), Steve Cardownie (SNP), Jason Rust (Con)

• Pentland Hills Regional Park Consultative Forum: David Walker (Lab), Bill Henderson (SNP)

• Royal Scottish National Orchestra: Norma Autin-Hart (Lab), Catherine Fullerton (SNP)