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Badenoch and Strathspey member aiming to secure leading positions within Highland Council

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Councillor Bill Lobban is hoping to wear two hats in the next administration – convener and deputy leader.
Councillor Bill Lobban is hoping to wear two hats in the next administration – convener and deputy leader.

The former convener and local Badenoch and Strathspey member has radical plans for the next term of Highland Council.

Devolved power, flexible working and smart budgeting – just some of the modernisation plans floated by Councillor Bill Lobban.

He hopes to get back into the convener's seat again when the full council meets on Thursday to vote in the new leaders and committee chairs.

And with a new coalition deal agreed with the SNP, he may also take the role of deputy leader.

Councillor Lobban is one of the most experienced members in the chamber, and he is known for not mincing his words.

Case in point when asked for his views on the political fallout to the SNP-Independent deal.

“I’m not too bothered what the Highland Liberal Democrats are saying on Facebook,” he quips. “My wife has more followers and she mostly posts about bees.”

Both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have fired shots. Each had hopes of forming their own minority administration.

The Scottish Tories say the SNP will pander to Holyrood, while the Liberal Democrats have challenged independent councillors to show their political colours.

But a defiant Councillor Lobban insists they are all missing the point.

“Whichever way an independent goes they get criticised for going with one political party or another, but our focus is on the people of the Highlands. During negotiations with the SNP group we got the impression that their focus was on the people of the Highlands too.

“We had our first group meeting yesterday and the word politics was never mentioned. It was all about our joint administration.”

Councillor Lobban sais the Independents were not keen on a minority administration, and wanted stability to deliver for the Highlands.

“We are looking forward to doing things that affect people’s lives and their real problems,” he said. “The cost of living crisis, the cost of energy, all that is magnified in rural Highland. We have to help if we can.”

He described the last political term – interrupted by Covid – as the most challenging time for local government since the Second World War. The Highlands has a long way to go in recovering.

“We’re the size of a small country with the population of a medium sized town,” he says. “We have all the problems associated with both.”

How will the new administration tackle those problems? If elected on Thursday, Mr Lobban wants to help deliver a more modern and responsive council.

“Localism is now the way to go, especially because we have different priorities in different areas,” he said. “The idea of centralised power is absolute nonsense. As much as possible needs to be devolved to the area committees.”

Councillor Lobban accepts that the last administration made progress but “probably did not” really deliver on that front.

He believes localism will not work until budgets are devolved alongside power – and he hopes to bring proposals to council within the next 12 months.

He also said the budget itself needs a whole new approach.

“It’s thinking not just outside of the box but flinging the box away in terms of how we fund capital investment projects,” said Councillor Lobban. “That’s something we thought long and hard about in the last five years but never quite got there. Some other councils have been far more innovative.

“We have to find ways to invest the council’s money carefully so we get a return on that investment and the returns can be spent on the things we really want to deliver for local people.”

The local councillor also wants a better funding deal from both governments – regardless of political colour.

“We don’t get a fair share from either one,” he said. “There are many things I think should be funded centrally that are not. We get increases on our budget but we also get told how to spend that money. I’d like to see less of that, and more increases where people in Highland can decide how it’s spent.”

Asked if coalition with the SNP will help, he said: “It certainly won’t be detrimental to have the ear of Government ministers”.

Yet local and national politics have an uneasy relationship. In the Highlands, more than any other region, cross-party working is essential to making progress.

Mr Lobban believes the role of the chamber is essential in that respect.

“We should be speaking to all sides, to senior politicians right across the area because we will need their assistance,” he said. “The debating chamber still has its place. It is in many ways a better place to do business and to listen to the views of members than on the end of a TV screen.”

While small, informal meetings will stay remote, the bigger political meetings will take place in the Inverness chamber.

“I like the debate in the chamber – it’s a major part of seeing good governance in Highland,” Councillor Lobban insisted. “It gives the ability for members to get their question or motion heard in public and build a relationship with other members, cross-party.”

“If I am re-elected as convener on Thursday I will be there to represent all the members. It won’t be about politics. For the benefit of the Highlands, groups of all political parties or none will be able to get together and see the way forward.”

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