Labour ‘bad for council’ in opposition - Fife leader’s claim

Cllr Alex Rowley, Leader of Labour in Fife
Cllr Alex Rowley, Leader of Labour in Fife

The quality of opposition on Fife Council has been criticised by its leader, reports MIKE DELANEY.

Peter Grant said that the stance adopted by Labour over the last four years had been bad for the local authority and democracy in general.

Councillor Elizabeth Riches, Lib Dem, deputy leader of Fife Council

Councillor Elizabeth Riches, Lib Dem, deputy leader of Fife Council

The town councillor - who leads the joint Scottish National Party-Liberal Democrat coalition on the Glenrothes-based council - also agreed that there had been bad blood between some members.

He was speaking as he and his deputy, Elizabeth Riches, delivered a ‘report card’ on their last five years in office.

Cllr Grant had admitted that, when in opposition, the SNP group had often been “quite ferocious” in fighting its corner.

But he added: “If a Labour administration did something that was potentially unpopular, but that we thought was the right thing, we tended to support it.

Fife Council Headquarters in Glenrothes

Fife Council Headquarters in Glenrothes

“My concern is that with similar things just now that are seen to be the right thing to do, but might have short term unpopularity, more people on the council jump on that short term unpopularity and won’t let it go even when it’s been show to be the right thing to do.”

He went on: “There’s good people in the Labour group. But, I have never made any secret about the fact that I don’t think the current leader of the Labour group (Alex Rowley) is providing the kind of opposition that their voters deserve, or the kind of opposition which would be of benefit to the council.

“Constructive opposition and criticism leads to better decisions and I don’t think there’s been enough of that over the past five years. “

“I have been disappointed because I was here when Alex Rowley was leader of the council and we have seen a completely different approach to the political process to what we had then and his group suffers as a result of that and it means the council hasn’t achieved what it might have done.”

While Cllr Grant accepted that politics was a tough trade, some of the behaviour he had encountered was unacceptable.

“When it starts to go overboard, when it starts to become personalised, when it becomes hypocritical with people arguing for things they don’t believe in and starts being based on complete fabrications and untrue statements, I don’t think that serves any purpose,” he explained. We are beginning to see that now possibly more than you saw two or three years ago.”

Cllr Grant said he hoped to be re-elected as both a councillor and council leader again after May’s election, but that would be his final stint in the ‘hot seat’. Mrs Riches also revealed she would be standing down as Lib Dem leader, although she would continue as a local councillor.

Both agreed that the coalition had been “good for Fife” and that, if the situation arises, it may be repeated. It emerged that the respective party’s candidates had been urged to ‘go easy’ on each other at the poll, although they denied that amounted to an “anti-Labour” pact.

“Some of the most marginal seats in Fife are between SNP and the Lib Dems, so we need to make sure that, at the same time we are all fighting elections on our own behalf, people stick to some sort of ground rules, so that we are not undoing the good work we have done in the past,” said Cllr Grant.

Cllr Rowley said: “Peter seems to have a strange view of what is good for the council and, worse, he seems to believe that good leadership is to verbally abuse anyone that disagrees with you. I represent the community on the council and as such will always speak up when I see bad practice, money being squandered or when people bring issues to me.

“This is not just the job of opposition it is the job of every councillor. I am not going to stop speaking up just because Peter Grant does not like it and continues to launch personal and abusive attacks on me.

“We are 12 weeks away from the council election and it will then be the people of Fife who can make the final judgement.”