Perth and Kinross Council is axing committee meetings in an effort to ease pressure on over-stretched officers.
The move, which has proved contentious amongst councillors, was described as “literally a matter of life and death”.
Following a heated debate, councillors voted for a motion put forward by the minority Tory administration to suspend most meetings, but hold monthly talks to discuss only the most urgent matters.
It is hoped the temporary move, which is expected to last for five months, will allow council staff to concentrate on running vital services and help fighting the pandemic.
An amendment put forward by SNP councillor Andrew Parrot suggested keeping the time table, but allow for meetings to be cancelled if there is no pressing business, was defeated by 21 votes to 17.
The council’s legal head Lisa Simpson told councillors: “We are not looking to erode the responsibility and role of elected members. We are simply seeking to organise the actual physical arrangements that we have for decision-making to ensure that only the most important and urgent strategic matters are the ones that are tying up officers’ attention.”
She said: “That means officers attention can be devoted to, not only supporting our colleagues in health with mass vaccination programmes, but also to maintaining essential services and ensuring vulnerable people are protected, children continue to be educated, bins continue to be emptied and roads continue to be gritted.”
She said Covid was making regular operations more demanding. “We are also addressing tasks that we have never had to address before. We are working in partnerships to deal with extraordinary situations whereby we are trying to mitigate transmission and protect citizens of Perth and Kinross from the covid virus which is increasingly killing people.
“It is literally a matter of life and death.”
SNP group leader Grant Laing said the plan proposed by the administration could “hand everything over and make us irrelevant.” He said: “I think we have a large part of play in helping get out of this pandemic. We should have more involvement, while pairing things back.”
Executive Director Barbara Renton responded: “We’ve brought forward a proposal in good faith, to help us address what we are seeing as very tired, very committed staff who are doing the very best for the people of Perth and Kinross.
“It is absolutely not about making elected members feel or become irrelevant to the process. You are the heart of all of this.”
Council leader and Conservative councillor Murray Lyle said that, as a result of covid pressures, officers were working long hours, weekends and with “little opportunity to take leave”.
He added: “It is important that we elected members do all we can to support officers and to ensure that their time and energy is focussed on providing those vital services, as we continue to deal with the impact of the pandemic.”
Putting forward his amendment, SNP councillor Andrew Parrott said: “I respect and understand the huge effort that is being done by our staff, and I support the aims of this paper.
“But I feel there are better ways of delivering. We are doing the equivalent of changing horses mid-river, which is something the cavalry would never do.”
He said: “I believe that the amendment we are proposing represents a solution that is easier, offers less confusion and gives staff more flexibility to determine what needs to be brought forward now, and what can wait until later.”