COUNCILLORS have endorsed a raft of ‘management savings’ at Argyll and Bute Council after heated exchanges between administration and opposition members.

But a decision on many more controversial ‘policy options’ – affecting school crossing patrols, pupil support in schools and charges for services – is not likely to be made for another four months.

The decision to endorse a series of ‘management/operational savings’, which do not have an impact on staff numbers or front-line services, was made at a full council meeting last week.

SNP group leader Councillor Sandy Taylor tried to get the wording of the recommendation changed to read that councillors “noted” the proposed service cuts, instead of endorsing them.

But his amendment was defeated by 15 votes to 11.

A further amendment, proposed by Councillor George Freeman, to continue discussion to the full council’s next meeting on Thursday, November 28, failed to find a seconder.

READ MORE: Argyll and Bute faces £9m savings target for 2020-21, says new report

Councillors also voted in favour of a public consultation seeking council tax payers’ views on service priorities, which will be launched shortly and will run until early December.

School crossing patrols and pupil support hours in primary schools are all among the potential ‘policy options’ where spending could be reduced, and jobs lost, as revealed by the council, and reported in the Advertiser, earlier this month.

The price of burials, cremations and parking may also rise.

No decisions have been taken on what services, if any, will be removed or retained, with the council due to make the final call in February when it sets its budget.

Councillor Ellen Morton asked a question in response to Councillor Lorna Douglas’s comments, reported in the Advertiser last week, that the SNP group would seek to reject issues which threatened the vulnerable.

She said: “One or two proposed cuts are very concerning, including the school crossing patrols.

“As I understand it, this is not a statutory service – is it one that the Scottish Government gives you money for?”

When head of strategic finance Kirsty Flanagan said she was unsure and would need to check, Councillor Morton continued: “The answer is that we don’t have to scrap them. We just go to [finance secretary] Derek Mackay and ask him to go into his magic money bag.

“Why are we having to pick up their mess?”

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Councillor Taylor said: “Do we absolutely need to endorse all these savings today? I have a number of questions which I would like to press.

“If we are building them into the budget, I would rather change the wording to say that we are noting the proposed savings rather than endorsing them.

“A year or two ago, we were encouraged to put an investment into a network for primary schools, and here we have a saving to remove the budget for that.

“We cannot scrutinise these without having had an opportunity. If the council endorses it, so be it, but it does not change whether we can agree or reject them when it comes to the budget.”

Councillor Morton responded: “My understanding from the policy and resources committee meeting was that the decision to recommend that the proposed management and operational savings were endorsed was unanimous.

“Has Councillor Taylor changed his mind between that meeting and now?”

Councillor Taylor responded: “Absolutely not. I am representing the interests of the council and we agreed that the proposals should come before the full council.”

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Conservative councillor Yvonne McNeilly, the authority’s education spokesperson, said: “I congratulate Councillor Taylor on his interest in all things education.

“The first minister [Nicola Sturgeon], addressing the faithful in Aberdeen for 45 minutes [at the SNP conference], mentioned education as being her number one priority twice.

“She mentioned health once, and independence 22 times. That does not suggest that education is her priority in Scotland.”

Councillor Douglas then said: “I find it quite disappointing, having had to listen to Councillor Morton bring up the Scottish Government, Councillor McNeilly is now making those comments.

“I don’t even know what her point is, apart from having a political rant.

“I held back because I don’t think this is the place to get into a political argument.

“If this is the level of the council, so help us.”

At that point, council leader Aileen Morton and provost Len Scoullar intervened to prevent any further political debate and to move to a vote.

After a show of hands was rejected in favour of a roll call, the motion to recommend that the council endorse the identified savings won by 15 votes to 11.

The public consultation will be developed by the council before it is released.

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