SNP councillors have walked away from a new leisure trust, over fears they’d be tied to decisions they opposed.
Worried group leader David Alexander said this week that ‘collective responsibility’ would effectively gag his SNP colleagues from speaking out at council meetings.
Instead they’ve given up their two seats, saying they will now be able to properly scrutinise the trust and voice their opinions.
The interim board should have comprised a total of five elected councillors, including Labour’s Adrian Mahoney as chairman, plus Pat Reid and Malcolm Nicol; the remaining three are continuing to carry out the groundwork to set up the planned community trust.
Five members of the public will be added to the final board.
The council will still own the cultural and leisure assets that will transfer district wide to the trust, including the recreation centre, the Hippodrome, Bo’ness library and Kinneil Estate, and will be its chief funder.
The new trust system - already operated by the SNP in West Lothian - gives tax breaks and should save the cash-strapped council almost £1 million.
It is thought the new trust will have an annual budget of nearly £12 million. About 470 council staff will transfer to the trust, the council heard last week.
It’s hoped a decision about its charitable status by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator will be made by mid-May, enabling a July 1 ‘go live’ date.
The SNP group opposed the trust’s creation when it was voted for in December, branding it privatisation.
Councillor Alexander said the party had initially nominated members Lynda Kenna and Cecil Meiklejohn so they didn’t lose their allocated board places, while clarification was sought on matters like directors’ legal positions.
Unhappy their members would be bound by a ‘collective responsibility’ rule to support the board’s decisions even if they personally hadn’t backed them, they resigned days later.
Councillor Alexander said this week they feared they would have become primarily directors of the trust, and secondly members of Falkirk Council.
“None of the SNP members will be restrained or restricted in any way from scrutinising the trust in the way that the three (other board) members will be,’’ he said.
“We will properly represent the interests of the community.’’
But Councillor Mahoney hit back, saying: “A director of a charity would have to do what’s in the best interests of the charity. But effectively it’s looking after council buildings, assets and staff. You would hope members of the council would want to act in the very best interest of these people and facilities.”
He expressed disappointment over the resignations, adding: “I’d rather we had people from all the sides of the council steering it and making it a success.”
Responding to SNP claims of a lack of scrutiny chances to date, he said the door was always open to them to ask for briefings. He rejected notions of privatisation saying: “They (trusts) are not there to make profits for a shareholder but to deliver a service for the public.”