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Key committee appointments made for new Highland Council

By Nicola Sinclair, Local Democracy Reporter

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Key appointments within new Highland Council were made at headquarters on Glenurquhart Road in Inverness today.
Key appointments within new Highland Council were made at headquarters on Glenurquhart Road in Inverness today.

Highland Council has appointed leaders to all its strategic committees at its full meeting today.

These members will shape the delivery of everything from road repairs to social services.

So who are they?

SNP and Independents take the lead

With a joint coalition deal in place, most of the senior political positions are divvied up between the SNP and the Highland Independents.

Councillor Raymond Bremner is the new leader of the council, while Bill Lobban will serve as both convener and leader of the Highland Independent group.

There was a brief skirmish at Highland Council this morning, as some councillors asked whether Councillor Lobban should take the lead from the Scottish and UK parliaments and give up his political allegiances.

However, Mr Lobban was resolute that he could serve both roles, and maintained he has always been fair and impartial in his capacity as convener.

This morning, members elected councillor Biz Campbell to serve as vice-convener – a role she also held in the last administration. She shares the job with SNP member Ken Gowans.

Communities, and economy

Two of the meatiest roles in the new administration went to experienced SNP councillors. Former headmaster Graham Mackenzie takes the reins as chairman of the communities and place committee.

In many ways, this is the most frontline of the council’s committees. It deals in the tangible: grass cutting, bins, play parks and community empowerment.

Sutherland councillor Hugh Morrison was elected as vice chair.

The remit of communities and place often overlaps with economy and infrastructure.

This committee has the unenviable task of getting to grips with the region’s roads, parking and transport. It also sets Highland’s economic growth strategy, including oversight on planning policy.

Highland Council elected Ken Gowans to this role. The Inverness councillor was an influential player in the last political term and won his 2022 seat on a huge majority, thought to be one of the biggest in Scotland.

Mr Gowans will be supported by Independent member for Nairn and Cawdor, Michael Green.

In a change to last term, tourism will now fall under the remit of the economy committee. The decision to scrap the separate tourism committee drew criticism from some councillors but the administration say the new structure will give it more clout and broader experience.

No change of leadership for health or education

Once upon a time, health and education were part of a massive committee rather vaguely named ‘people’. But as the meeting papers ran into the several hundreds, Highland Council decided to split them up.

Still, health, social care and wellbeing remained something of a behemoth, taking in NHS services, social care and children’s services. Not to mention the small matter of a pandemic.

Meanwhile, the education committee grappled with attainment levels, school inspection reports, additional support needs and the council’s desperate need to build more schools.

For both these committees, there was little change in leadership. Highland Independent David Fraser moved up from vice chairman of health, taking the reins from retiring councillor Linda Munro.

Former health worker Muriel Cockburn of the SNP took the role of vice chair. Highland Council also elected Ms Cockburn to the board of NHS Highland following a close-run vote against Caithness councillor Ron Gunn.

In education, councillor John Finlayson continues in the role of chairman. The former headmaster is one of three Highland Independents chosen to lead strategic committees.

Highland Council elected Drew Millar of the SNP as vice chairman.

Looking at the money

Councillor Derek Louden spent the last political term challenging Highland Council’s approach to its budget. Now, the SNP member takes the helm as chairman of corporate resources.

Whilst the SNP previously worked on a collaborative budget with the administration, Mr Louden was often critical of the council’s approach.

He will now be tasked with helping to divvy up a tight budget settlement whilst delivering on the long list of roads, schools and other investments the council has promised.

Independent Skye councillor Calum Munro stepped up to the role of vice chairman of corporate resources.

Former economy chair Trish Robertson moves to the opposition benches in the new political term, and will lead the audit and scrutiny committee.

Councillor Andrew Jarvie, former Conservatives leader, will serve as vice chairman.

Climate change in focus

Fresh from her election as Inverness provost, Glynis Campbell-Sinclair has also nabbed the role of housing and property chairwoman.

Council members elected Nairn member Laurie Fraser to the role of vice chair, following a brief tenure in the chair last term.

In other appointments, Skye councillor Calum Munro will chair the Gaelic committee, with Raymond Bremner as vice chair.

Highland Independent Thomas MacLennan will take the chair of the pensions committee. The role of vice chair went to Derek Louden.

Finally, Highland Council put its green ambitions front and centre by creating a committee solely for climate change.

Caithness councillor Karl Rosie will chair this new committee. The council elected new Green member Kate Willis to the post of vice chair.

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