COUNCIL bosses in Argyll and Bute have failed to properly engage with residents over plans to get communities involved in winter maintenance, a former leader of the authority has said.

Helensburgh councillor Aileen Morton said there had been "no serious effort" made by authority officials to try and involve community groups in helping during spells of extreme winter weather.

Councillor Morton was speaking after a report revealed that £50,000 set aside for 'community resilience' in 2021-22 would instead be put back into the council's general budget for winter maintenance.

Her successor as leader, Kintyre and the Islands councillor and Liberal Democrat party colleague Robin Currie, responded that there was nothing to stop the cash being reallocated to community resilience work in future years.

The council’s environment, development and infrastructure committee approved the winter maintenance policy, including the reallocation of the £50,000, at its virtual meeting on Thursday, September 2.

Councillor Morton (Liberal Democrat, Helensburgh Central) said: “I have no issue with that, and accept that in the last couple of years, it will have been really difficult to do community engagement.

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"I also don’t anticipate it being deliverable in the next couple of months.

“But there has been no serious effort to do this. The report we got a couple of years ago told us that in Aberdeenshire and one of the Ayrshire councils, a strong message was going out.

“We have never really tried to do this, so we need to show it is being taken forward and can be built up.”

Councillor Currie responded: “I am quite satisfied with the recommendations as they are. It would be absolutely nothing to put something back in as part of next year’s budget.

“Just because we abandon something now, it does not mean to say it has been abandoned for all time, certainly not for me anyway.

"If a successful budget next February sets £50,000 or £100,000, then that can be done.

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“I do know that I have attended a number of community council meetings which have discussed this over the last winter, and there was no appetite for them to get involved in such a scheme.”

Councillor Elaine Robertson (Independent, Oban North and Lorn) added: “When I read this, I was disappointed too, because I do know of some communities that would like to take this up.

“I have to admit that over the last year, the community councils have not been operating as normal, but I am reassured if we say it can be put back into the budget.”

Councillor Morton then said: “If we accept the recommendations then I will not move an amendment, but I do have a concern.

"In my view, the council has the failing here. We are the ones who have not engaged with communities.

“There have been many winters when we wouldn’t have needed communities to step up, because the weather has been mild.

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“But there are other events that can be really extreme, such as the Beast from the East [in 2018]. We wouldn’t want communities to be out there in the first day or two, but it would give us additional capacity.

“I accept what has been said about picking it up in future years, and that we need to focus on arterial roads, but things like snow clearing are focused on the economy.

"Communities would sometimes prioritise areas that we would not.

“I would not expect to roll it out everywhere in one go, but it is about engaging with a couple of communities if we are to start a campaign in future.”

Councillor Currie added: “It is something we should take on board and discuss in the coming months.”

The report was then approved as per the recommendations.

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