Angus Council’s chief executive took aim at the Scottish Government after the area was left out in the cold for nearly a fortnight in the immediate aftermath of Storm Babet.
Margo Williamson’s frustrations have been revealed in an email exchange following the disaster which forced hundreds of people from their homes.
Just days after the October 19 destruction, First Minister Humza Yousaf visited the worst-hit community of Brechin.
He spoke of his shock at the scale of damage after record water levels in the River South Esk breached the town’s £16 million flood defences.
But despite promises of help, the council chief executive told a senior Scottish Government figure Angus suffered in silence for nearly a fortnight following the devastation.
‘Concern’ over lack of response
Mrs Williamson – who is due to retire from the top role – emailed Communities director-general Louise MacDonald two days after the First Minister’s visit.
The Angus official said: “The FM visited on Monday (October 23) and said several times, that Government were working with Angus on support for the people of Brechin.
“I clearly did not want to say otherwise but I am unaware of any contact from officers in Government to outline what might be possible.”
And on October 31, the chief executive’s patience snapped.
She wrote: “It is concerning almost two weeks on, that no officer in Scottish Government has contacted myself to ask how we are coping as a council or discuss how Scottish Government can lean into the recovery phase of Storm Babet.”
The CEO said Angus was “by far the worst hit area of Scotland and our communities and businesses have suffered catastrophic loss.
“The Bellwin Scheme although activated, is for emergency response rather than recovery and much as it is appreciated it does not address the challenges Angus is facing now and in the immediate future.”
Her email set out short, medium and long-term issues and questions to the Scottish Government.
She also asked the Scottish Government to halt any plans to bring refugees to Angus so the council could focus on re-housing of hundreds of people forced from their homes by the flood.
The email added: “It is anticipated we will have a provisional assessment of the cost of repairs end of November.”
But she warned: “It is already obvious that the scale of the damage is going to be beyond what we as an individual council can afford to deal with in the current financial climate.”
On November 2, Ms MacDonald ‘s office sent an email offering a “15-minute catch-up”.
A ministerial taskforce chaired by Deputy First Minister Shona Robison and involving Mrs Williamson and Angus administration leader Beth Whiteside was subsequently set up.
But it did not meet for the first time until November 16. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday next week.
Other actions implemented in Angus have included:
- Funding of £1500 per household; £3000 per business for those most affected
- An additional £100k from Scottish Government over and above the £250k Angus Council has initially committed to spend in the immediate aftermath of Storm Babet following approval from its elected members.
A Storm Babet financial update is due to go before a full meeting of Angus Council next week.
Earlier this week, SNP group leader Beth Whiteside and her ruling group survived a motion of no confidence for their handling of the disaster.
Scottish Conservative MSP Stephen Kerr obtained the email via a freedom of information request.
He said: “This is an extraordinary exchange between the chief executive of Angus Council and an SNP government that wouldn’t listen.
“In the days following Storm Babet, Humza Yousaf promised the people of Brechin a helping hand.
“But it took two weeks for his government to even offer a ‘quick chat’ over the phone.
“The bleak picture painted by Mrs Williamson would make any focused government sit up and take notice.
“Millions are needed to rebuild Brechin and rehome residents.
“People in Angus are rightly wondering where their elected officials were during the storm.”
Scottish Government response
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government has been committed throughout to supporting local recovery efforts – the Storm Babet Ministerial Taskforce was established to co-ordinate and support on both the immediate recovery response and longer-term issues.
“Last month the Taskforce agreed a package of support for people whose homes and businesses were flooded – including a £1,500 community recovery payment for individuals whose properties have been flooded, and a £3,000 business recovery grant for businesses impacted by flooding.
“Grants are open for application and will be administered by eligible local authorities.
“We will continue to work with local authorities and those directly affected by Storm Babet, to help councils, people, businesses and communities to recover in the short term, and to consider the longer term impact.”