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Poll: Should Highland Council be broken up to deliver more responsive local government? Highland MSP Emma Roddick believes it should because it is difficult to reconcile the needs of people across so vast an area: 'There is no logical reason that Merkinch should be in the same local authority area as Applecross'

By Scott Maclennan

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Highland Council Offices in Dingwall where the debating chamber could be used.
Highland Council Offices in Dingwall where the debating chamber could be used.

Highlands and Islands MSP Emma Roddick has called for the Highland Council to be split up after questioning whether the local authority can still be considered “local” as it covers an area almost the size of Belgium.

The move would see the creation of an Inverness city council while the rest of the Highlands would get its own local authority areas as appropriate.

Though the calls were rebuffed in the Scottish Parliament the idea has been gaining traction in recent years as many people believe the council and its officers are spread too thin and have a tendency to centralise.

Some firmly believe that it would be a good idea to see places like Dingwall's County Buildings reactivated and decisions taken close to home.

There is a long-held complaint among many locals that “Inverness gets everything” from investment to services while other areas are left to make do, frequently having to make long journeys to access things like healthcare.

The point was underlined by the recently published Inverness Strategy by the council, something that many areas lack but not all as there is a masterplan for Fort William dubbed FW2040, for example.

Ms Roddick, who remains a Highland Councillor for the Inverness Central ward since becoming an MSP in May’s Scottish Parliamentary Elections, called for change to address poverty in the city.

However, Ms Roddick departs from others who have called for something similar in arguing that rather than the rest of the Highlands being deprived by the current system it is in fact Inverness who gets the thin end of the wedge.

In Holyrood, she asked the Minister for Parliamentary Business George Adam: “Does he believe that the Highland Council area given its size can be described as local government? And would he see the benefits in an Inverness city council both for our fastest growing city and the rest of the Highlands which have very different interests.”

Mr Adam said: “We currently have no plans to change the Highland Council area. I understand the geographic challenges for Highland Council were recognised when it was first created.

“Unfortunately, these challenges did not allow for a practical solution that would have allowed the area to be split up and those challenges have not changed.”

Speaking afterwards she said: “The reason I phrased my question to the minister in the way I did, asking him whether he considered the Highland Council ‘local’ government, is because nobody could possibly and reasonably answer that with ‘yes’.

“If the point in local government is to deliver local services which work for one area, what is the point in designating one council to cover Inverness, Bettyhill, alongside the Small Isles?

“The only way to ensure each area of the Highlands gets the representation it deserves and to allow good decisions to be made locally is to introduce smaller councils.

“Inverness has unmet needs in the Highland Council. Councillors representing the city are outnumbered by those outwith it and their perception is that the city gets everything, so it, ironically, loses out on needed investment.

“Our city wards include areas of deprivation which are crying out for attention. There is no logical reason that Merkinch should be in the same local authority area as Applecross.”

Let us know what you think and we will publish the results in a week's time. Is it time for major reform of Highland Council?

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