Published: 18/05/2017 13:26 - Updated: 18/05/2017 13:33

New leadership team formed to steer council through difficult times ahead

Cllr Maxine Smith (Cromarty Firth): 'Red warning bells'
Councillor Maxine Smith says she will work constructively for the good of the Highlands as leader of the opposition

A NEW leadership team has been formed by Highland Council to "weather the storms ahead" as financial difficulties look set to continue.

Previous leader Margaret Davidson was reinstated yesterday, at the first full council meeting since the election earlier this month.

She will be supported by Bill Lobban as convener, who used his first meeting on the top bench to acknowledge the difficult times the local authority faces, as more swingeing cuts loom.

Liberal Democrat leader Alasdair Christie has taken on the role of deputy leader, following the agreement of a three-way coalition with his party, the independents and Labour.

This leaves the 22 SNP and the 10 Conservative councillors forming the opposition, headed by SNP group leader Maxine Smith.

Earlier this year the council made £20 million worth of budget reductions and is preparing to plug a black hole of around £50 million in the next two years.

But the new top dogs at Glenurquhart Road have vowed to work with councillors of all parties and none.

Following her nomination as leader, Councillor Davidson said: "I had the privilege of being leader of the council for the last 20 months in the previous administration.

"I intend to take forward this council in the same inclusive and cross-party way that we did in the last term and I look forward to working with you all and working with your strengths."

This was backed up by Cllr Lobban, who was re-elected as an independent after defecting from the SNP earlier this year.

"It is an honour to take this role and I promise to fulfil it to the best of my abilities and will support the elected members of this council, from whichever side of the chamber they sit," he said.

"There will be difficult times ahead and I have no doubt that this council, its members and staff will weather the storms ahead and continue to do our best for the people of the Highlands."

And Cllr Lobban paid tribute to the two previous conveners, Isobel McCallum, who did not contest her seat at the election, and Labour leader Jimmy Gray.

"I could not have had better role models than they and they both deserve thanks for the exemplary way they carried out their duties in the previous term," he added.

There was a power struggle between rivals the SNP and the Tories as Conservative leader Callum Smith was pitted against his SNP counterpart for the role leader of the opposition.

There is a standing order in place indicating the leader of the opposition should come from the largest party outwith the administration, in this case the SNP, but newly-elected Conservative councillor Andrew Jarvie called for this to be suspended.

Suspending a standing order requires a two-thirds majority and only 11 of the 74 councillors were in favour while 24 voted against it.

There were 13 abstentions and 26 did not vote at all.

All of the SNP councillors voted against suspending the standing order, giving Cllr Smith the leader’s role, supported by sole Green councillor Pippa Hadley and Inverness Lib Dem Alex Graham.

Independent Culloden and Ardersier representative Roddy Balfour was the only councillor to support the 10 Conservatives.

After being reinstated as leader, Cllr Smith joined her opponents in the vow to work constructively with all councillors while continuing to challenge the administration when necessary.

She said: "As an SNP group we want to work constructively for the good of the Highlands where possible but obviously as the opposition we will scrutinise and challenge where appropriate."

Nine of the Tories also abstained from the vote to elect Cllr Christie as deputy leader, and Derek MacLeod, newly-elected councillor for Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh, was the only Conservative to give the Lib Dem his support.

All SNP councillors voted for their group depute leader, Richard Laird.

SNP Nairn councillor Liz MacDonald was also nominated for convener, but was only given the votes of her party colleagues.

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