Published: 17/03/2017 15:00 - Updated: 16/03/2017 14:26

Fury at handling of safety question

Norman Vincent
Norman Vincent

A BONAR Bridge man made an official complaint to Highland Council’s chief officer alleging that he was treated with "discourtesy" by Creich Community Council after raising a roads safety issue, it has emerged.

But Norman Vincent (86) was shocked to learn that nothing could be done about his complaint because the code of conduct laid down for community councils is voluntary.

Now a furious Mr Vincent, a retired company chief executive who worked for years in South Africa, has launched a campaign to try to make the code of conduct mandatory.

Meanwhile the plot has thickened with a cryptic statement included in the recently released minutes of Creich Community Council’s February 21 meeting. It is thought the statement is aimed not just at Mr Vincent but also another local man.

The minutes read: "Pete Campbell (chairman) made a statement to those present. It has been noted that a rumour is circulating locally that this community council is not being run according to laid-down protocols.

"Whoever is spreading this false information is asked to contact Pete Campbell directly in person to discuss this immediately.

"If this does not happen before the next community council meeting (March 21), this will be the first agenda item that evening at which point Pete Campbell will name names with the matter being taken forward appropriately."

Mr Vincent said he attended the June meeting of the community council in order to raise his safety concerns in relation to numbers of young people gathering during the evening at Bonar Bridge.

But he was taken aback by the reaction he received.

He said: "It’s a dangerous spot because four roads meet there. I went along (to the June meeting) as an interested party and put my hand up and said this should be looked at.

"That’s where it all started. They obviously didn’t like it being raised. It was a hot potato. They basically asked: ‘Who are you to be raising this – we have been here for years’."

An aggrieved Mr Vincent lodged an official complaint with Highland Council chief executive Steve Barron and East Sutherland and Edderton ward manager Garry Cameron.

The essence of his complaint was that he had not been treated according to the community council’s code of conduct.

Mr Cameron spoke to both Mr Vincent and chairman Pete Campbell, but Mr Vincent was perturbed to learn that no action could be taken.

He said: "I went to Steve Barron, the head of the council and said: ‘Listen, I have got a complaint about this community council, about the way it treats people because there is a code of conduct. What are you going to do about it?

"His office came back and said: ‘We cannot do anything about it because the code of conduct is voluntary’."

Mr Vincent continued: "The fact that this code of conduct is voluntary is nonsense. Imagine having speed limits that are voluntary!"

Mr Vincent has now lobbied MSPs, MPs and other political leaders demanding that the legislation be changed to make the code of conduct compulsory.

He said: "I am going to try every avenue I can find to see if this code of conduct can be made into something that is mandatory. I believe it being voluntary is completely wrong."

Mr Vincent said he had not been back to a community council meeting since June and did not intend to do so. He was also not prepared to get into a "war of words" with the council.

Regarding chairman Pete Campbell’s statement, he said it displayed a "dictatorial attitude" and he could not simply "order" people to approach him.

He said: "They are making a big noise but I am not going to argue with them."

Pete Campbell was asked if he wished to comment but had not done so by the time the Northern Times went to press yesterday.

However a community councillor, who did not want to be named, said: "If they don’t show up at the meeting on March 21, the community council will discuss and decide action."

Ward manager Garry Cameron said: "The relationship between Highland Council and community councils is close and we have an advisory role which is important.

"I can confirm that the council’s Scheme for the Establishment of Community Councils together with the model constitution we require our community councils to adopt, do not allow the council to take action against individual community councils.

"Similarly there are no provisions within the legislation that empower local authorities to take disciplinary or punitive action against community councillors.

"I therefore cannot oblige community councils to take particular actions but can only offer advice.

"If and when communication is received from any individual or group highlighting concerns around community councils this is dealt with allowing for the appropriate levels of confidentiality for all those concerned."

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