AN attempt to put the return of Highland Council’s resurrected area committee set-up on ice has failed - amid stinging criticism of the extra cash which new area leaders will pocket.
The new SNP, Liberal Democrat and Labour coalition is to resurrect the structure which will see committees granted powers to make decisions at a local level.
A pilot in Inverness and Caithness and Sutherland is expected to start later this year.
Another three committees representing the rest of the region would also be established.
Each one will be headed up an area leader, who will chair the respective committees and pocket a £24,480 salary. That is £8,000 more than a councillor’s basic salary of £16,234.
It was described as “shameful” move by a senior Independent councillor at the authority’s meeting in Inverness today (Thursday).
Helen Carmichael said the leaders, who would be elected at the first committee meetings, should continue to receive their normal salary and not get any extra cash because they had already been elected to serve their local constituents.
“If the administration is so keen to have a local leader they should take these on at no extra payment,” said Councillor Carmichael (Aird and Loch Ness).
She slammed the coalition parties plans at a time when council staff had a pay freeze in place. “Shame on you all,” she said.
Councillor Carmichael moved an amendment calling for the area committees shake up and proposed salaries to be put on hold until the Highland electorate were consulted on their views.
Council leader Drew Hendry rejected the salary criticism and said each of the new leaders would have additional responsibilities to carry out.
“These committees are not just designed to sit there, we are talking about genuine responsibilty for these communities,” he said.
The amendment was defeated by 46 votes to 32 in favour of the administration.
Councillor Carmichael said she broadly welcomed the reintroduction of area committees, which had been abolished in 2007, but claimed there would not be enough of them to take account of the region’s geography.
“I welcome the introduction of area committees for local people with local decisions, local councillors,” she said. “However there is a fatal flaw with the proposal. Only five committees, why? Why not 10, 22 or even one in every ward?”
She said people living in Fort Augustus had not felt represented by the Inverness city committee while Caithness and Sutherland was a huge area to have only one body and the proposed Ross and Cromarty area committee took in east and west coast communities.