Former Dumfries and Galloway leader quits party in council budget row

Happier days when Councillor Nicholson amiably handed over the Labour leadership to Councillor Murray
Happier days when Councillor Nicholson amiably handed over the Labour leadership to Councillor Murray

Labour suffered another resignation this week but the reason for its former council group leader’s departure was far closer to home than Brexit.

The Dumfries and Galloway Council’s 2019/2020 budget, agreed by its Labour/SNP controlling coalition, has led to Councillor Ronnie Nicholson quitting the party he once led in the local authority.

He told the Gazette this week: “This was an incredibly difficult decision for me to make but in all conscience I could not support a proposed SNP/Labour budget which made such draconian cuts in teachers.

“Given the reduction in funding from the Scottish Government, the council has an impossible task to make over £15m of savings without impacting negatively on services.

“But the decision to axe at least 40 teaching posts is a cut too far and one that is avoidable.

“The budget proposes over £500,000 of spending on new proposals such as a Community Initiative Fund and the council also proposes to increase the reserves held. I wanted to suggest that we used this money to retain teaching posts instead but I was prevented from even making this suggestion at the last Labour Group meeting before the budget.

“After decades as a Labour Party member, I simply cannot be involved in a decision that will damage ours kids’ education locally, therefore regrettably I had no choice but to resign from the Labour Group”.

The woman who succeeded him as Labour Group leader and is now Council Leader, Councillor Elaine Murray, expressed her disappointment at Councillor Nicholson’s decision.

She commented this week: “I deeply regret the resignation of Councillor Ronnie Nicholson from Dumfries and Galloway Labour Group.

“He has served the council and the Labour Party with great dedication for many years and his experience will be greatly missed. Dumfries and Galloway Council has already been forced to make £96m of cuts since austerity began in 2010/11.

“This year, we faced a further funding gap of over £16m, and the coalition administration has had to make some extremely hard choices in order to produce a fiscally competent budget, choices we have made with heavy hearts. We will continue to adhere to our policy of no compulsory redundancies.”

For more on the council budget, see Page 5 of this week’s Gazette.