A BID to increase the number of area committee meetings held across the Argyll and Bute Council area has failed – by only two votes.

Councillor Donald Kelly [Conservative, South Kintyre] wanted the authority to change the number of annual area committee meetings from four to six.

Seconded by Councillor Douglas Philand [Independent, Mid Argyll], he had sufficient support from Mid Argyll, Kintyre and the Isles [MAKI] area committee at its June meeting for the idea to be put before the full council on Thursday, June 27.

But the proposal was rejected by 16 votes to 14, meaning the four area committees for the area’s divisions – MAKI, Helensburgh and Lomond, Bute and Cowal, and Oban, Lorn and the Isles – will continue to meet four times a year, in March, June, September and December.

Councillor Kelly said: “During the last restructure of the council meetings moved to a quarterly basis.

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“I accept this works well for committees like environment, development and infrastructure, policy and resources and community services.

“But area committees have lost continuity. We have not had the opportunity to follow issues through with constituents at public question time.

“When there is an ongoing issue, people come along and get the chance to question councillors and put their views across.

“By supporting a move to six area committee meetings a year, we would give the general public a 50 per cent increase in democracy.”

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But Councillor Robin Currie [Liberal Democrat, Kintyre and the Islands], chair of the MAKI area committee, submitted an amendment to take no action, seconded by Councillor Donald MacMillan [Independent, Mid Argyll].

Councillor Currie said: “We know how many people come to area committees. The biggest ones are on the islands when we go there.

“Last year we went to Islay and we spent about 90 minutes on public question time, which was really good. We also had a good question time on Gigha recently.

“But in Campbeltown, very few members of the public turn up. I am not sure if more area committees would serve anything.”

Councillor Ellen Morton [Liberal Democrat, Helensburgh and Lomond South], chair of Helensburgh and Lomond area committee, highlighted the retirement of several council officers, whose efforts were recognised at the council meeting, as an argument against.

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She said: “The motion sounds very democratic.

“But we saw this morning how many of our most experienced officers are leaving us – [and]  not because of the quality of their work; they were stunning at what they did

“We are losing them because council funding is cut year on year.

“We need governance staff to support area committees. They are there to advise us and many are qualified lawyers.

“I don’t think this is a good move. Where are we going to find the money for the people we need to support us?”

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However, Councillor Lorna Douglas [SNP, Helensburgh Central], said: “In my two years as a councillor I have only really known there to be four meetings a year.

“There are people who think there should be more. The one thing that keeps coming up is community engagement.

“There should be various opportunities for the general public to make their views known and that includes more formal settings. I would welcome more meetings.”

After a roll call, Councillor Currie’s amendment came out on top by 16 votes to 14.