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Dundee councillor bids to stop unelected members from voting on school plans

Councillor Gregor Murray
Councillor Gregor Murray

Members of Dundee’s education committee could be stripped of their right to vote if plans brought forward by a city councillor are successful.

The children and families services committee currently has eight additional members who are not elected councillors, five of whom can vote on educational matters.

Independent councillor Gregor Murray has listed an item ahead of Monday’s council meeting which would seek to remove voting rights from these members, who include church representatives, unions and teachers.

Teachers are voted on to the committee by other council-employed teachers and representative David Baxter said they very much do have a mandate to sit on the committee.

The Church of Scotland said its members’ voices were an “essential” part of Scottish democracy, while the Catholic church argued being allowed on the committee helped prevent “unintended consequences” in changes to educational policy.

Similar moves were made by Perth and Kinross Council in April last year, in the wake of the controversial closing of Blairingone Primary.

Anger as casting vote for Blairingone Primary closure falls to unelected members

Gregor Murray said no other committee had un-elected members and the practice was not fit for 21st Century democracy.

“I have placed this item on Monday’s agenda to make sure everyone on the committee has been democratically elected to it,” said the councillor.

“It is a bizarre anomaly non-elected people get to vote on educational matters. It is 2020 and still the church gets to vote on how schools are run.

“The public do not get a say as to who these members are and I do not think it is very fair. No other council committee allows representatives to have a vote – it is not as if there are environmental staff on the neighbourhood services committee.”

The former children’s services convener hopes other Scottish local authorities will follow suit if Dundee Dundee does decide to remove voting rights from the representatives.

The Scottish Government recently sought to clarify the rules surrounding the system, which was introduced in the 1970s, insisting it was up to each council whether additional non-elected members should have a vote.

Mr Baxter said: “We are opposed at the move to take away teacher representative votes. Those that sit on the committee have been elected to the committee by Dundee City Council teachers, so we have a mandate to be there.

“We are interested to see why this has been brought forward, it has come out of the blue.

“It has not been suggested as part of a wider review of committees in general, it has come out of leftfield.

“Having teachers able to vote on the committee means there is accountability and this will be removed if voting rights are taken away.”

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “Many appreciate the value of what Church of Scotland reps bring to the decision making process and a number of local authorities have already decided to retain voting rights for them.

“Across the Church our representatives hold a variety of positions with regard to voting, with many choosing to abstain.

“Our experienced reps are encouraged to use their role to listen and engage in ways which benefit the community. We see this as an essential part of a mature democracy.

“We will encourage our reps to continue to engage in this important and vital part of community life and do all that they can to ensure that Scotland is a place where young people can have the best possible start to life and where all people, regardless of their backgrounds, can flourish.”

A spokesperson for the Catholic Church said: “Church representatives make a valuable contribution to the education agenda in each of the local authorities that they serve.

“They support the local authority commitment to provide the best possible education for the children in their care and often offer invaluable insight into the intended and unintended consequences of proposed changes to education policy.”

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