Warring Midlothian councillors plan sparks new row

Midlothian councillors (clockwise from top left) Muirhead, Milligan,  Johnstone and Cassidy.
Midlothian councillors (clockwise from top left) Muirhead, Milligan, Johnstone and Cassidy.

An improvement plan drawn up to help warring councillors find a way to work together sparked a new row at the first full council meeting following their summer recess.

Audit Scotland called on Midlothian Council to come up with a plan to develop better relationships between its elected members and introduce effective cross-party working, after discovering tension between political groups during a Best Value report. But instead of approving the plan, councillors argued about who was to blame for the findings.

SNP Group councillors refused to approve the plan, instead abstaining from the vote, and one even called for a vote of no confidence against council leader Councillor Derek Milligan (Lab).

The Audit Scotland report said: “Elected members need to show better leadership to deliver the necessary change and make difficult decisions about the future shape of services. The duty of Best Value is a responsibility of all elected members. We expect members to work together, and with officers, to fulfil their corporate responsibilities.”

SNP Councillor Catherine Johnstone asked Cllr Milligan if he was embarrassed by comments made in the Audit Scotland report and what he planned to do to improve matters.

However, Cllr Milligan responded that it had been the previous SNP administration that the report related to.

He added: “This is a serious document that tells us quite candidly that we should all be working together.”

A call on councillors to approve the improvement plan drawn up to address the concerns raised by Audit Scotland saw only 10 of the 17 councillors in the chamber back it, leading to Cllr Jim Muirhead (Lab) to urge his fellow members to consider their actions. He said: “We have given a commitment to the Best Value authors to work together, that we all understand the circumstances that we are in.

“We are asking here for the endorsement of an action plan to improve this council, to move us forward.”

Councillors agreed to retake the vote and the SNP Group asked for a two-minute recess before returning for a second vote.

And when they returned, Cllr Colin Cassidy called for a vote of no confidence in Cllr Milligan. He told the council meeting: “I do not have faith in this administration whatsoever to take this forward and I am calling for a vote of no confidence in the leader.”

However, legal adviser William Venters ruled his motion not competent. A call by the SNP for a second recess was then rejected by councillors before the improvement plan was approved, with seven SNP councillors abstaining from the vote.