Council leader announces decision to stand down

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Argyll and Bute Council’s leader is to stand down from the role after more than three years at the top of the authority.

Liberal Democrat councillor Aileen Morton, of the Helensburgh Central ward, has served as leader since May 2017, having been elected in 2012.

She will also resign as a chairperson of no fewer than four groups, and as a member of a number of committees and external organisations where she represents the area.

In a council statement announcing the decision, no single specific reason was provided for her decision to step down as leader.

However, councillor Morton said now was an ‘ideal time’ for someone else to take the reins and that the decision had been made after ‘much thought’.

It was regarded as the ‘right time’ to hand over to a successor to take the council through the ‘next stage of development’.

The council confirmed she would continue to support the area as a councillor and a as a member of the administration. She would also support the new leader in whatever role required, the council said.

Its new leader will now be chosen at its full meeting on Thursday, September 24 which will be held via Skype due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Also on the agenda is a report which states that the net additional costs to the authority as a result of Covid-19 amounts to an estimated £11.2m.

The shortfall before ‘potential alternative options’ is £4.4m but if a series of recommendations are taken forward, the council hopes to whittle the shortfall down to  £2.2m.

Councillor Morton, of Kilmory, said in the statement: ‘I took on the role of leader to put in place opportunities for success to happen.

‘With millions of pounds of national investment secured, stronger relationships developed with key decision-makers, and the council’s progress as an effective organisation recognised, it’s the ideal time now for someone else to take the council forward.

‘Like all local authorities we face substantial challenges due to reduced funding but overall Argyll and Bute Council is in a really good place.

‘In the past three and a half years we’ve made very considerable progress.

‘We’ve seen the council through a positive Best Value audit which highlighted significantly improved, constructive relationships across the chamber and with our officers, and also recognised the council’s sound approach to financial planning and budgeting.

‘We have strengthened relationships with both the Scottish and UK Governments through proactive and positive engagement from the start of my term as leader, with our cross-party Argyll and Bute Parliamentary Forum bringing together all the region’s elected representatives.

‘We have developed and agreed priorities which have our communities at their heart and which are designed to help Argyll and Bute thrive.

‘Our drive and determination to secure economic success for Argyll and Bute through growing the population has been relentless.

‘We’ve taken this issue to national government – identifying trends and leading on work relating to west coast and rural depopulation while continuing to press Argyll and Bute’s case with ministers.

‘Having already seen funding of at least £50million secured through our Rural Growth Deal I expect to see this take major steps forward later this year following continued engagement with ministers in both governments.

‘As we developed our Growth Deal we asked our communities what could make the biggest transformational change to the area and their top priority was digital and transport connectivity.

‘While there are still challenges to be addressed our broadband and mobile provision is now much improved and following sustained lobbying last month saw acceptance by the Scottish Government that a permanent solution for the A83 Rest and Be Thankful needs to be delivered.

‘We have achieved much over the past few years and there is so much potential for further success.

‘The next leader of this council can build on that and will be starting from a very strong position, supported by a fantastic workforce who know, as I do, that Argyll and Bute is a great place to live and work.

‘It’s been my privilege to lead this council for the past few years and to serve the people of Argyll and Bute. I will continue to do so, working with my successor. My sincere thanks go to all who have supported me over the years.’

The council’s depute provost, councillor Roddy McCuish, paid tribute to Councillor Morton’s achievements as leader.

He said: ‘Aileen took on the role of leader to get a job done for Argyll and Bute, and she’s done that.

‘In brief, she’s taken Argyll and Bute’s cause to key decision makers to secure transformational investment for the area; and she’s progressed collaboration within the council to use shared priorities to deliver success.

‘On behalf of everyone who will benefit from the progress made, I would like to thank Aileen for her drive, focus and effective leadership of Argyll and Bute Council.’