IT is perhaps indicative of the Labour Party’s predicament in the forthcoming council elections that in one local authority area it is standing fewer candidates than it currently has councillors.
Labour at present holds 14 seats on East Ayrshire council but is only putting up 13 candidates, a situation which has baffled political opponents.
That being said, the Liberal Democrats are not contesting any of the nine multi-member wards, some of which have been altered by the boundary reviews.
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The SNP is the only party which can take complete control of the council, putting up 18 candidates for the 32-member council, and is also the only party putting up two candidates in every ward.
Its current 15 councillors run East Ayrshire in coalition with two Conservative members, and the Tories are now standing nine candidates, the same number as independents. The administration can point to a genuine achievement within the last fortnight. At the prestigious Improvement and Efficiency Awards in London earlier this month, East Ayrshire was named UK Council of the Year.
Awards chairman Paul Bettison explained: “The UK Council of the Year is the Council deemed outstanding in transforming the delivery of its services … each of East Ayrshire Council’s transformations is a story worthy of an award.”
No one at the council pretends that the changes in recent years were easy, as they were directly caused by cuts to the council’s budget.
The area’s largest town, Kilmarnock, was also devastated industrially when Diageo closed the Johnnie Walker bottling plant in 2012, but with a new college campus and the HALO urban park project backed by Marie Macklin’s Klin Group, the regeneration of the site is seen as crucial to Kilmarnock’s future. The council is one of the few that really embraced the Scottish Government’s community empowerment legislation and has been able to put almost 90 facilities into a programme of empowerment, with nearly 70 of them involved in community asset transfers. East Ayrshire has also got quickly into stride with the Pupil Equity Fund launched by the Scottish Government and calculations are that as much as £3.5m per year extra could be going into East Ayrshire’s schools.
The council did add three per cent on to its council tax charge as permitted by the Scottish Government, for unlike other authorities, the admin- istration decided to keep plenty of its reserves.
The question for the incoming leadership will be whether to maintain that policy or spend reserves in future years, given that there will continue to be cuts in local government finance unless the Conservative Government in Westminster has a complete change of heart – unlikely, given the need for cash to pay for Brexit.
Expectations locally are that the SNP will be the largest party but may have to form a coalition again. The party have been hit by the sad loss last year of the late Councillor Jim Buchanan who made such a good job of his economy brief, and one notable member standing down is the long-serving Bobby McDill.
The SNP’s deputy leader, the artist Eoghann MacColl, is standing again, making him still the only councillor in Scotland to have won a major arts award, the 2005 Alastair Salvesen Scholarship.
The party is particularly proud of the fact that its 18 candidates are split equally on a gender basis with nine men and nine women standing.
Labour are also losing a stalwart in the form of Councillor Barney Menzies who has served Cumnock for 18 years, but group leader Maureen McKay is standing again as is John McGhee in Annick.
The Scottish Libertarian Party is fielding eight candidates, double the number of Greens.
One candidate who has caused a stir is Sally Cogley who is standing in Irvine Valley. That’s because she is standing for The Rubbish Party.
Cogley is a community councillor in Galston who last month announced the formation of The Rubbish Party – she is the only candidate – to campaign against “all types of ‘rubbish’ from wasted resources to littering and dog fouling” as it says on her website.
Still the biggest talking point, however, is Labour’s failure to match its current number of 14 councillors. With only 13 candidates, Labour is admitting it has no chance of taking control of an area that was once a party stronghold.