THE new chief executive of Argyll and Bute Council says making the most of the expansion of HM Naval Base Clyde is vital to the growth of the area’s economy.

Pippa Milne identified the Maritime Change Programme as a key contributor to turning around the population decline and economic struggles the area has experienced over recent years and decades.

The MoD programme, announced in 2007, is expected to move up a gear in the next 12 months with the arrival at Faslane of the Royal Navy’s latest Astute-class submarine, HMS Audacious, and the opening of the base’s new Submarine Escape, Rescue, Abandonment and Survival (SMERAS) training facility.

Speaking about her hopes for the future of Argyll and Bute, Ms Milne, who has taken over the role of the council’s most senior official after Cleland Sneddon left last month to become South Lanarkshire’s chief executive, said: “There are undoubtedly challenges, not least delivering services with fewer and fewer resources, but there are also great opportunities like delivering our Rural Growth Deal.

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“I’m looking forward to working with all our partners in the area to make the most of those opportunities.

“I would like to see Argyll and Bute thriving and growing with a buoyant economy; opportunities for work and study that make it an attractive place for young people; housing  suitable for those who want and need it; and services that meet the needs of our communities.

“Things that will help us get there are the delivery of our Rural Growth Deal over the next 10 years and capturing the benefits of the Maritime Change Programme at HMNB Clyde for the local area.

“[They also include] securing much needed investment through the national review of transport infrastructure projects; closing the attainment gap; and modernising health and social care services for the next decade and beyond.”

Ms Milne joined Argyll and Bute Council in 2013 as executive director of development and infrastructure services, having fallen in love with the area as a visitor.

She has worked for councils in England and Scotland, and now lives with her husband in Crinan.

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Ms Milne continued: “Since moving here I’ve found that pulling together is something we do really well across communities.

“Working co-operatively with other public sector organisations like the health and social care partnership, police, fire, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, private sector businesses, voluntary and community organisations and communities themselves is absolutely critical to our success.

“Our community planning partnership brings all those bodies together and a range of teams who all believe that we can make a difference.

“Our population is both ageing and declining. This threatens our economic success, makes it difficult to fill jobs and leads to increases in the cost of public services.

“We need to make the area attractive for young people to ensure that long term sustainability of our area. Solving this issue is complex and is getting harder as the resources we have available to tackle it reduce.”

One of Ms Milne’s first tasks is to oversee the council’s 2020/21 budget-setting process, which has already faced its obstacles.

Recent events at UK level have left that process shrouded in uncertainty – but the chief executive knows that deciding on council spending cuts will prove difficult in any event.

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She said: “The recent general election and the delay to the UK Government’s budget will make this budget setting process unusual. “We normally have an indication of our funding for the coming year in December allowing us to plan ahead for the budget being agreed in February.

“At the moment we don’t yet know when we will find out how much money the council will be allocated.

“We have been preparing for the budget using assumptions and the council’s policy and resources committee considered the budget outlook and savings proposals in December.

“Many of these are proposals that we would rather not have to put forward, and they will present difficult choices for those involved in agreeing the budget.”

Ms Milne added: “Argyll and Bute is a great place to live, work and invest. It offers great potential and a wide range of opportunities for the future.

“Working together we can make it the very best that it can be.”

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