ARGYLL and Bute Council’s departing chief executive has said that local people show the best of “an amazing area that deserves a great future”.

Cleland Sneddon left his post with the authority on Thursday, December 19 to take up a similar role with South Lanarkshire Council, a move that will take him closer to his family.

He also says it “angers and saddens” him that the area has suffered a reduction in Scottish Government funding since 2008 which has forced the council to make £57 million of savings.

But while he leaves Argyll and Bute with mixed feelings, it is also with fond memories as he hands over the reins to his successor, Pippa Milne.

Mr Sneddon said: “I have enjoyed almost 10 wonderful years in Argyll and Bute. This is an amazing area that deserves a great future.

“I have felt privileged to have had the chance to play a part in building that future.

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“Challenges remain to be met, of course, but across Argyll and Bute I see progress being made in creating the right conditions for the economic growth that will bring prosperity.

“More than anything I will remember the great people I have met, from the brewery guys on Colonsay that made a ‘cocktail bar’ out of a container unit one long winter to the outdoor early years kids at Stramash in Oban. It’s local people who show Argyll and Bute at its best.

“Lanarkshire is where I am originally from, and I spent 13 years with South Lanarkshire Council earlier in my career.

“It is also an area of outstanding potential, and opportunities to become chief executive of so large a council don’t come around often.

“It will feel like a bit of a homecoming, with so many of my old colleagues still working there, and will also move me closer to family.

“I am very excited about the opportunity this presents – anyone who knows me or has worked alongside me will recognise my absolute commitment to local government.

“I have been fortunate to get the opportunity to build recognition of Argyll and Bute Council as a creative, innovative, forward thinking and high performing organisation – I look forward to continuing that journey with South Lanarkshire.”

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Mr Sneddon arrived in Argyll and Bute in May 2010 as its executive director of community services, before taking up the chief executive’s post in 2014 – though his links with the area, and with Helensburgh and Lomond in particular, go back quite a bit further than that.

Indeed, in a talk to the Helensburgh Heritage Trust in October 2017, he shared fond memories of childhood holidays at a caravan in Rosneath, learning to water ski on the Gareloch, rowing from Rosneath to Rhu and sinking 40 feet from shore on the way back, and conga dances to the beach and back while ‘courting’ at the much-loved, and much-missed, Augusto’s Restaurant in Garelochhead.

But much of his time at Argyll and Bute Council was rather more challenging – not least hugely controversial proposals, unveiled in 2010, to close 25 schools, including Rosneath, Kilcreggan, Luss and Parklands.

Those proposals, which fell under Mr Sneddon’s community services remit, were eventually dropped. But the issue which drove them – the council’s long-term financial sustainability – remains as big an obstacle as ever.

Asked for the biggest challenges of his time with the council, Mr Sneddon continued: “Undoubtedly the financial cuts that have been made to local government since 2008 – for Argyll and Bute that means savings of £57m.

“It angers and saddens me what has happened to our funding. We provide services that are crucial every day to everyone, from educating our children, to looking after the vulnerable in our society and a million other activities that support our communities.

“It leaves us annually considering the most unwelcome of cuts.

“It further angers me that there are those who deny the truth of this position. I am not a politician – it is for others to argue about where the cause of this situation rests – but let’s not insult the public by suggesting that these financial challenges are not real.”

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On the highlights of his time, he said: “The creative, committed and skilled people I worked with.

“Councils can’t do everything communities want, and public comments often focus most on what we’re not in a position to do.

“I know, however, just how hard Argyll and Bute’s employees work for the area, and the huge difference they are making in what are times of unprecedented challenge for local government.

“Everyone in Argyll and Bute knows or is related to someone who works for the council – they recognise the efforts and commitment that is shown. I am immensely proud of this council and those who work for it.”

Looking to the future, with Ms Milne set to move into the chief executive’s chair, Mr Sneddon talked about the potential for Argyll and Bute to develop.

He added: “Attracting the people and jobs Argyll and Bute needs to have a successful, sustainable future will take time, investment and effort from everyone who has influence and impact on life in the area.

“There is massive economic potential in this area. The Rural Growth Deal has the potential to take Argyll and Bute further along the road to economic growth and repopulation.

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“Reversing the population decline that threatens Argyll and Bute’s future has to continue to be the key priority.

“There is a solid platform for my successor to take up the reins and drive forward progress being made – putting into action Rural Growth Deal investment; the maritime change programme at HM Naval Base Clyde; delivering new housing across the area; attracting new business investment; further closing education attainment gaps; developing new models of care; improving public protection services – I could go on and on.

“The agenda is enormous, driven by a focus on continuous improvement.

“I wish my successor and the colleagues and friends I leave behind every success – I will forever be an ambassador for this wonderful area and council.”

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