CHANGES to community councils have been branded “undemocratic” and “a waste of money”.
East Renfrewshire Council’s (ERC) changes to community councils in late 2015 have come under fire once again.
The chairwoman of Barrhead’s community council (BCC) and chairman of Neilston Community Council (NCC) have both hit out just months before they are forced to step down from their positions.
They have described having their organisations’ “hands tied” by the scheme, which effectively put the community councils under ERC’s jurisdiction.
However ERC says it does not accept the accusations, and argues that the scheme has been highly successful.
BCC chairwoman Rosaleen Reilly, who will be forced from her position after more than 10 years in April, feels the independent authority of community councils has been stripped from them.
She said: “We feel that we should be able to nominate our own office bearers and that they should hold the position for as long as we see fit.
“We are supposed to be independent from the local authority, and for a long time we worked flawlessly with the local authority.
“The community council effectively has its hands tied and it is a deeply impractical scheme.”
Rosaleen, who has been consecutively re-elected as chairwoman with no opposition for the best part of a decade, also feels that an unnecessary change in chairperson will also hamper the work of the community council.
She continued: “Throughout your time as a chairperson you build up a lot of relationships that can help you benefit the community, not to add that when you step down it might be in the middle of important plans.”
This sentiment is echoed by her village counterpart, John Scott, who personally feels that the enterprise has been all for nought.
He said: “This has been a large amount of public money that has been spent to achieve very little.
“There are major aspects of the scheme which are very questionable – not least the clause regarding chairpersons.”
Much like Rosaleen in Barrhead, John has been chairman of NCC for more than 10 years.
He continued: “They have taken what was a group of functioning and active community councils and made it very difficult for many of them to continue.”
The broader role of the community council is to listen to, co-ordinate and express the wider views of the entire community – and are supposed to act completely independently of local authorities such as ERC.
Recognised community councils, unlike other community organisations, are included in the consultation process for all planning applications.
The scheme also included powers to sack community councillors, limit terms of office and dissolve the organisations completely if they did not meet requirements.
The changes arose after a row intensified when three of the 10 community councils attempted to amend their constitution.
Council insiders said some of the groups had been accused of bullying. Under the new scheme, ERC has given itself the explicit right to veto any moves to change constitutions.
At the time, ERC defended the decision saying that it would make the organisations more transparent and enable more people to get involved in them.
However fewer community councils are now operating than before the changes were brought in to place.
Despite this ERC says that the scheme has been well received.
An East Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: “Since the introduction of the new scheme of establishment in 2015 there has been strong interest and support for our community councils, so we don’t accept the claims made.
“Seven new community councils have already been created, an eighth has just been established following a call for nominations for membership with a ninth set to follow soon.
“In the coming months we will be working with local communities to try and establish community councils in those areas not yet represented.”