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Highland Council boss makes 'ambitious' statement about future direction

By Scott Maclennan

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Local democracy in the Highlands looks set for major changes after Highland Council’s chief executive called for a “bold and brave” and cooperative approach.

Donna Manson’s first major address to assembled councillors was more personal than had been the case in the past and was praised for bringing a new level of maturity to the chamber as she sought to introduce a “different style” of leadership to the authority.

She discussed the council programme and the 54-event consultation process with reference to her understanding that behind all the policies are people and families, including her own.

Mrs Manson began by saying the council programme that “defines a moment of opportunity” is based on “thousands and thousands of human stories” from staff and locals.

“I am going to be bold and brave, like the councillors were when they issued a call to support each other, and say at this moment as my family are travelling up the A9 in their van, a Highland son is coming home, coming home after 40 years and bringing with him his Highland son to start a new life.

“There are themes in life, themes about rich heritage and culture of a man who for many years left with his ambition from the Highlands but every time he came over Drumossie his eyes filled with tears in his eyes for the last 40 years.

“And he knew he always wanted to return here so this is about a future of ambition, this is about welcoming families to return, and those words are in there [the council programme].”

She added: “And so what I say to you here today as you talk about the themes and have a discussion about this is that you really do think about our ambition.”

That was greeted by applause in the chamber and speaking afterwards they were no less approving with Richard Laird saying her approach was substantive.

Opposition SNP member Richard Laird said: “It was definitely a different tone that the chief executive adopted in the chamber for her address, one that was a refreshing change.

“What was found was a more conciliatory approach from this chief executive and for the first time it felt like a meeting of adults in the chamber.

“I don’t know how much that is down to her but she is certainly trying to set a tone for the senior leadership in the council. She has certainly recognised the problems in the council and is listening to the public which is a different style.

“Whether it can last through the budget negotiations process, when difficult and unpopular decisions will have to be made in collaboration, remains to be seen,” he added.

Fellow SNP councillor Kirsteen Currie said: "I was inspired by the words of the new chief executive of Highland Council when she addressed the chamber during the full council meeting in Inverness recently.

“She spoke about repopulating our area, working together for a common goal and helping our communities to be happy and prosperous places. I completely agree with her comments.

"I sincerely hope that the new chief executive will bring in a new era in the Highland Council, one of respect and decency, collaborative working and listening to communities throughout the Highlands."

She added: "I hope that her words will have a positive impact on the administration and that they will go into the new budget for 2019 far more informed than in previous years."

Richard Gale who is a member of the administration was equally impressed: “The council programme is an ambitious statement of inspirational aims that show a clear vision for the Highlands and I fully support it.

“However if we are going to achieve many of the aspirations listed across the Highlands we need to ensure that we address many of the inequalities that exist in the rural Highland economy and Sutherland is a case in point.

“I am delighted that the Chief Executive has spent a considerable amount of time travelling around the remote areas of the Highlands and she in turn has been encouraged by the willingness of remote communities to work with the Highland Council to deliver the services that they deserve while recognising the challenges that we face.”

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