Communities facing chaos as local councils ‘dissolved’

The local authority has taken emergency measures to get community councils re-established across the region after disbanding them on a technicality.

With a full programme of summer activities looming, 38 community councils, including Cree Valley, New Galloway, Kirkcudbright and Gatehouse, were told this week they had been dissolved by the local authority because they did not have a constitution in place within three months of being elected.

Cree Valley vice-chairman Clifford Smithers confirmed an emergency meeting was held last night to discuss the crisis.

Cree Valley were aware they had no constitution in place but had allegedly been given verbal confirmation of an extension to prioritise dealing with the aftermath of the severe flooding in the town.

New Galloway Community Council chairman and former provost John Thom said they were extremely worried about getting insurance cover for events.

He said: “It could be three months before community councils can get re-elected! We will struggle to find insurance for events like galas and the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations. Trying to organise an election is also very time consuming.”

His fellow New Galloway community councillor Stuart Littlewood added: “D&G Council has got itself in a legal tangle that paralyses local democracy and puts half the community councils in the region out of action for the next five months. We now can’t carry out our statutory duties, the community bank account is frozen so we can’t pay local trades and businesses, we can’t pursue essential grant-aided projects and our public liability insurance is due to run out.

“On the face of it, the commonsense approach would have been to immediately delete the offending clause, and that is what the Community Services Committee recommended to full council.

“But removing the clause was impossible, say officials. On 24 March the Council opted instead for a review of the whole community council scheme and more consultation. The council says it took legal advice but has made no attempt to set it out in a way the public can understand.

“To keep the show on the road, we must now register some sort of liaison group which will be given temporary limited powers until new community councils can be elected in September/October.”

Mid Galloway Councillor Jim McColm said: “This is a very unfortunate situation but the scheme for establishing community councils is unequivocal about this. You had to have approved and returned a constitution by the 22nd of January. There is no room for discretion but it’s something Dumfries and Galloway Council may have to look at in future. The vast majority of community councils met the deadline. Hopefully the matter can be resolved as quickly as possible.”

A spokesperson for Dumfries and Galloway Council said: “The council has been liaising with 38 community councils across the region to inform them that legally they are now considered to be dissolved.

“Although this is ultimately a matter for the individual community councils, we recognise the important role they play within their towns and villages – the events they arrange, the activities they support and the good work that they do. The council is therefore keen that the affected community councils are supported if they wish to re-establish themselves and we have put in place all necessary resources to support them to get back up and running. A letter has been sent to each community council asking them to return details of nominations within seven days. By returning this information, it means that the community council can get re-established as soon as possible. This will ensure that the variety of enjoyable summer events organised by community councils can go ahead as normal.”

Dumfries and Galloway Council are the only local authority in Scotland who have a compulsory dissolution clause written into the constitution of community councils.