Call for Midlothian Council leader to resign

Midlothian Council Building
Midlothian Council Building

Labour councillor Jim Muirhead has called on Catherine Johnstone to reconsider her position as the leader of Midlothian Council .

This follows statements made by Councillor Johnstone during a heated debate between the pair at last week’s Gorebridge Community Council meeting.

Councillor Johnstone reported that the financial reserves held by the council were £2.6 million less than they actually were and stuck by the claim even though Councillor Muirhead pointed out that she was wrong.

In response to criticism of her administration’s decision to remove funding for the police community action team, the council leader claimed that a report detailing the activities of the team included the activities of other officers, when it did not, and claimed that these officers were often used to cover activities out-with Midlothian such as golf tournaments.

However, Councillor Muirhead said she should have been aware that the agreement the council has with the police prevents this.

After the meeting Councillor Muirhead said. “Councillor Johnstone attempted to mislead the meeting providing false information and when challenged attempted to defend her position.

“Since Tuesday night’s meeting Councillor Johnstone has verbally accepted that the figures she gave to the meeting were wrong and that the council had £2.6 million more in reserve than she had believed. She has yet to respond regarding the other points she made at the meeting.

“Nevertheless the position is that the council leader and her administration made budget decisions in ignorance of facts that were fundamental to these decisions.

“The honourable thing for the SNP administration to do now, would be to reconsider the cuts that it forced through the council.

“And the honourable thing for the leader to do would be to resign, as she is clearly not suitable to hold such an important post.”

These developments follow on from earlier criticism of Councillor Johnstone’s handing of the Newbyres Care home report, which rated the facility as weak on all four categories of inspection.

Councillor Johnstone who is also responsible for health and social care, claimed not to have seen the critical report, until it was requested by the council’s performance and scrutiny committee some months after its publication.

Speaking on that issue, Councillor Muirhead said: “For a cabinet member to be told of the existence of a report that was severely critical of a council establishment within her area of responsibility not to have asked at the time for a copy of the report is ridiculous and a clear indication that Councillor Johnstone does not appreciate the responsibilities that come with a cabinet post, or indeed leadership of the council.”

A spokesperson for Midlothian SNP said: “This is absolutely desperate stuff from an increasingly desperate Labour party in Midlothian. Midlothian Council has delivered a strong budget for local people which protects vital services and jobs in difficult financial times as a result of Westminster’s austerity agenda –Councillor Muirhead’s claims are a transparent attempt to distract people from the fact that it was he and his party who lined up alongside the Tories during the referendum to keep Scotland’s budget under Westminster control.

“The SNP in Midlothian is focussed on delivering for local people at every level – council, Westminster and Holyrood – and will be working harder than ever to retain people’s trust. We will leave Labour to their tactic of partisan carping from the sidelines – as they try and fail to distract people from their record of failure locally and nationally.”