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Perth and Kinross Matters: Budget day highlights divisions at Perth and Kinross Council

Councillors gather for the PKC budget meeting.
Councillors gather for the PKC budget meeting.

The silent protest of two senior Tory councillors added some much needed drama to last week’s budget talks – but it wasn’t enough to save the event from eye-rolling predictability.

Colin Stewart and Callum Purves opted out of the marathon meeting, because they couldn’t support the administration’s 4% council tax increase.

Their absences levelled the playing field somewhat, leaving 19 administration (Conservative and Liberal Democrat) councillors against 19 SNP, Labour and Independents.

But the outcome remained a foregone conclusion, with Provost and Conservative councillor Dennis Melloy given the casting vote in the event of a tie.

At the start of the meeting, members of the public and press were promised a “lively and passionate debate”.

But in truth there was little give or take throughout the six hour slog. Most councillors stuck to their political guns, refusing to vote for any alternative schemes and shooting down any idea that their side hadn’t come up with.

Depending on your viewpoint, this year’s budget was a disappointment/triumph, because of/despite an increase/decrease in funding from the Scottish Government (delete as applicable).

It might have been a strategy, but it was heartening to see the Labour and Independent group working together with the SNP.

The people of Perth and Kinross deserve more of this. They expect their councillors to occasionally put aside their political differences and cross the battle lines to work together for the good of the area.

If this is already happening, then it needs to be more visible.

Last year, a proposal by the fledgling Labour/Independent group to save money by selling Pullar House was dismissed by opponents as pie in the sky.

This time, the suggestion had gathered more support and it will be interesting to see if it gets adopted before the lease on the building runs until in a few years’ time.

Although there were no major headline grabbing investments, there were some great incentives approved by the administration, including £30,000 to help families pay for school uniforms and £1 million worth of road safety measures outside primary schools.

I just wish there had been more actual discussion about alternative ideas and workable solutions. It would have been good for Mr Purves and Mr Stewart to have been there to argue their corner.

The truth is that, despite their differences, the spending plans put forward by each side shared a lot of similarities and councillors were – almost – in unison about which proposed savings, such as free swimming lessons and winter maintenance, to reject.

Perhaps Wednesday’s budget says less about individuals at Perth and Kinross Council and more about the state of politics in 2019, when everything seems to be politicised and your stance on certain issues is dictated by your own allegiances.

We only have to look across the pond to see the extreme example of this, where the household goods you buy or even the TV shows you watch depend on whether you are left or right leaning.

Let’s hope that isn’t our future too.

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