Last night I went along to the Local Election Hustings, along with the other four candidates for Turriff and District ward, at Turriff Academy.
The turn out from the public was quite low, around 40 people I’d estimate, but I understand people are busy and 7pm on a Thursday night may not be the best time for people. The event had been organised by John Smith on behalf of Turriff and District Community Council and the evening was facilitated by Community Council member Sandy McCaskill, who did an excellent job of keeping us all to time.
Each of the candidates were asked to make an opening statement on why they were standing and what their aims were if they were elected. After this we moved on to questions from the public, most of which were written down and read out by Sandy who then asked each candidate to respond. I made notes around each question as we progressed through the evening
These notes are not verbatim and the questions may not be exactly word for word as asked, as we didn’t get sight of them before we were asked to respond.
Now a General Election has been called what are you going to do to keep the focus on local issues?
My response to this I am an Independent candidate, I will only be focussing on the local issues in the ward when I am speaking to people. As I do not have a party behind me there will be no conflicting information coming out about the General Election which may be the case with the candidates from the political parties.
Turriff is a growing town, what should Aberdeenshire Council do to support this?
I was first to respond to this question so I didn’t make notes, but my response was, there are plans to build a lot of houses in Turriff, 400+ at Ardin 200+ behind the new primary school, but where are these people going to work? Aberdeenshire Council should look at employment & business opportunities and prioritise them when looking at housing developments. All the business investment in Aberdeenshire is along the A90 ‘Energy Corridor’ and the A96 development corridor. There is little being done to attract business into the middle of the Shire. On top of this there is regeneration money being spent in Peterhead and Fraserburgh but little anywhere else. We can’t just keep building houses in Turriff without somewhere for the people to work, we don’t want it being a commuter town and we don’t want more pressure on the A947 in its current form.
I’d like to see some companies from the Gas & Oil sector move some of the back office admin roles in to Turriff and other towns in the middle of the Shire. I’d like to see Aberdeenshire Council invest in Turriff, they are currently looking to build their new headquarters building in Inverurie and developing offices in other towns like Ellon, why not Turriff? More generally I’d like to see more council contracts given to companies in the Shire and not farmed out based on price. While the council has to get best value, they also need to look at the bigger picture of keeping money in the Shire. I’ve heard stories where the council have awarded a contract to an out of town company and they have then stopped using local suppliers taking money out of Aberdeenshire communities. This needs to stop, paying a little more for a service from a local company who keeps money in the local economy has to be better over all.
Dog fouling what are you going to do about it?
This was one of three questions from Turriff and District Community Council which is a question that regularly gets asked at their meetings.
My response to this question was, there are(? certainly were, last time I asked) only three dog wardens in Aberdeenshire and being able to get them to come to an area is difficult. I spoke about issuing fines, as the dog wardens are able to issue legally enforceable Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) for dog fouling. I also pointed out that in June 2013 an additional 30 more Aberdeenshire Council employees were trained and given the right to issue FPNs, which is great but the number of FPNs issued since this time hasn’t gone up significantly. The council standpoint is to ‘promote responsible dog ownership’, well this isn’t working. I am amazed that nobody has followed this up with the council, we have paid for training of 30 staff who don’t appear to be doing anything with their authority. Has anyone got a list of these 30 people and gone to them as they go about their job and asked to see if they are even carrying the paperwork required to issue a FPN?
I don’t want fines being issued all over the place and the council being seen as draconian but something needs to happen to fix this blight on our communities. Maybe it needs to start with some outreach and education, get the three dog wardens and the 30 trained operatives, out speaking to people in the community. If they see someone not picking up speak to them, tell them they could be fined etc.
I pledged that if I am elected on 4 May, I’ll be having conversations with Council Officers in Environmental & Waste Services about this, I’ll be asking a lot of questions some of which they may find uncomfortable.
I won’t be asking for the Police to get involved as one candidate pointed out, they have other bigger priorities, and I certainly won’t be trying to get every dogs DNA sample so someone can ‘dip the poo and get a match for the dog’ as suggested by another candidate. If we can’t get council employees to deal with the cause I don’t see how we can get them to dip lolly sticks in the mess left.
It was pointed out by another candidate that most dog owners are responsible it is the minority that cause the problem. They also pointed out the frankly ridiculous practice of picking up behind your dog then hanging the plastic poo bag in a tree or leaving it on the path.
Public toilets what would you do about them?
This was also from the Community Council in relation to the closure of the public toilets at the Haughs.
I explained that since it first came to light that the toilets had been closed by Aberdeenshire Council without any communication or consultation, I had led the public campaign to get them reopened. There is lots to read about that here on My Turriff. I have and continue to have, meetings with the Council and other interested parties about how we can keep the toilets open in the Haughs. I still find it incredible that on one hand Aberdeenshire Council are working with community groups to redevelop the Haughs and on the other hand they are closing the toilets that are needed there. The actual saving to the Council is minimal, very very minimal in the great scheme of things.
I went on to say that there should be public toilets open in all of our communities, these may not all be Council run they could be run by community groups or in partnership with the council. If we are serious about supporting our communities and serious about tourism then we need to keep these facilities open.
I will continue to have conversations with various parties, groups and stakeholders about the toilets to come to a suitable arrangement where they are kept open permanently.
Potholes, the roads are full of them what will you do about them?
With my Community Council hat on I said that in general I think that Aberdeenshire Council do do a pretty good job of fixing them, if they know about them. Certainly any I send in to the council on behalf of TDCC seem to get fixed. It was noted by another candidate that some repairs are better than others and some need re-repairing quite quickly. I suggested that there should be better monitoring of the contractors and they should be called back to fix any of their previous repairs that go bad in x months. Note, there may well be monitoring like this in place but I am not privy to this information, yet.
One of the other candidates stated that there was £16m+ in the council roads budget. I said this sounds like a lot but when you look at the number of miles of road this is to cover it isn’t a huge amount. My general feeling is that repairs do get done when the council are aware of them but it is something that needs to be kept on top of.
How can you represent the community if you are employed by and paid by the council?
One of the other candidates stated that the salary for a councillor is £17,ooo, this is a figure set by the Scottish Government and is the same for all councillors across Scotland.
My response to this was, I’ve not even looked at what the salary is for being a councillor, I’m standing as an independent candidate because I want to work for the community where I live and work and all those in the ward. I’ve been on the community council for a couple of years and worked closely with the current councillors but feel I could be more effective if I were an elected councillor and was ‘cutting out the middleman’ so to speak. I get a lot of issues raised with me as the Chair of the Community Council and via the My Turriff website and Facebook page, all of these are then passed to the councillors to deal with, I’d like to be able deal with these directly.
What do councillors do with the concerns from the community? Do they take them forward and are they listened to?
I can only speak about my experience with the Community Council and the current councillors, in my experience anything I bring to them they take on board and deal with. If I get elected on May 4, I’ll make sure that any concerns raised with me are taken forward to the appropriate people and I will feed back with any responses.
What do you think about care for the elderly?
I think that the elderly should, wherever possible, be cared for in their own homes in the community. Unless there is a real need for them to move in to a care home on medical grounds, I think the appropriate care packages should be made available for them to stay in their homes if they wish. The care should be led by the council with support from its partner organisations. We should look at the salaries for care staff and how we can retain them within the council.
Planning, is it fit for purpose is it up to the job?
I could only speak about this with my Community Council experience. I think that the planning system is fit for purpose generally. I’m sure that there are some bits that could be improved but on the whole I think it is ok. I said that for planning to work the community need to be involved, they need to engage with the planning process right from the start. It is right at the beginning when a planning application is first published that the community can comment on, object to or support an application. The planning applications are published online and any comments can be made online or in writing. The applications are also published in the Turriff Advertiser each week and online on My Turriff. Any comments that are made at this stage follow the application, so if it is refused and then goes to appeal all the documents will go with it. If it goes to the Scottish Government for appeal all the documents will go with it and can be reviewed to make sure they are taken into account.
There is no point in anyone from the community coming back after six month to complain about a planning application, it has to be dealt with at the outset, when the application is first published.
Is the planning service up to the job, yes I think it is.
At this point the discussion started to wander off on to decisions, applications, how minutes of meetings were recorded. This was quickly pulled back by Sandy.
From the floor, a member of the public asked about the two hours free parking on the High Street car park and why they couldn’t pay for more than the free parking if they were doing something like a course that lasted for more than two hours.
I spoke about this from the Community Council perspective saying that Turriff is the only place in all of Aberdeenshire that has two hours free parking. The idea is for people to park, visit town and then move on. A lot of towns in the Shire have half an hour or possibly an hour free parking. I pointed out that there were other totally free car parks in Turriff.
Another candidate (a currently serving councillor) said that this system was brought in after consultation with the community but it may be able to be looked at it through the Community Council.
The meeting was drawn to a close by Sandy McCaskill who thanked all the candidates for their time and the audience for keeping it non political. He said there was only one question refused on the ground of it being political. A member of the public then said he had asked that question and proceeded to try and ask Sandy Duncan the question about him being independent now and why he had left the SNP.
This question was closed down and the meeting was closed.