A HUGE chunk of Ross-shire is being starved of resources and “under-represented at every level”, according to a councillor who is proposing a massive shake-up of Highland Council’s structure.
Derek MacLeod, who represents Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh, believes the voices of himself and his ward colleagues are being drowned out, not only Highland-wide, but even within Ross-shire.
His ward is currently part of the Ross and Cromarty area committee which meets every three months and has a combined landmass of 6000 square kilometres and a population of 45,000. It includes the wards of Cromarty Firth, Tain and Easter Ross, Dingwall and Seaforth and the Black Isle.
He told the Ross-shire Journal this week the geographical size of the area committee is far too big for the west to get a fair share of budgets and representation.
Instead he wants to see his ward – which is the largest geographically in the local authority at just under 5000 square kilometres with a population of almost 10,000 – share an area committee only with Dingwall and Seaforth, which has a similar population.
Under his suggested structure, Tain and Easter Ross would join up with Sutherland, while Cromarty Firth and the Black Isle would form a new committee.
Cllr MacLeod, one of 10 Conservative members within the council, said: “There is a perception shared by some of the councillors for the ward that, in budgetary terms at area committee level, its needs are not being met on a proportional basis.
“Budget allocations, particularly in relation to roads, seem to be particularly skewed and are not commensurate with the needs of a ward of the area, population and geography of Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh whose extent and diversity of settlements is characterised by, among other things, the existence of 20 community councils within its borders.”
Cllr MacLeod also pointed out that despite almost half of the area’s roads being in his ward, they are served by only one winter maintenance foreman, based in Lochcarron.
He is willing to consider alternative ideas, and said the committee could stay as it is, provided the budget is shared more evenly. “There are many variations of how this could work,” he said. “If, and it is a very big if, the existing committee was to more fairly allocate resources, then there would be no need for any change at all.”
This comes just two months after Cllr MacLeod wrote to the council’s chief executive, Steve Barron, to complain that his ward is being starved of resources, including road improvements and the budget for new and refurbished schools.
His fellow ward councillor Ian Cockburn of the SNP is in favour of the idea, although he stressed it wasn’t new, because he proposed a similar break-up at an area committee meeting about two years ago, but it failed to attract enough votes.
“The council talks about localism, but a committee area that goes from Tain all the way down to Glenelg is far too big,” he said. “If this proposal comes up again, I would certainly support it.”
Another ward colleague, Councillor Biz Campbell said she first heard about the suggestion during informal discussions with Councillor MacLeod this week.
She believes the motivation behind it is to have more money available to spend on roads in the ward. “I would have to study the pros and cons, there is a lot to consider,” she said. Area committees meet every three months and are responsible for agreeing things like the winter maintenance plan and debating local housing, crime and fire figures.
In the coming months they will be given more powers over decision-making and budgets, as part of the council’s plan to devolve powers from the headquarters in Inverness.
Ross and Cromarty area committee chairwoman, Councillor Fiona Robertson, said: “This is a matter for local ward member discussion and agreement and no formal recommendation has, as of yet, been proposed.”