The Conservative Fraserburgh councillor Andy Kille has officially been appointed the new leader of Aberdeenshire Council – and as part of his first speech outlined a commitment to revoking powers delegated to unelected officers due to the pandemic.
Mr Kille was elected the leader of the Conservative group on Aberdeenshire Council in June, a move which resulted in his predecessor as council leader Jim Gifford resigning from the Tories and standing as an aligned independent instead.
Mr Gifford officially resigned as council leader yesterday, after a tenure as leader for “six and a half of the past eight and a half years.”
A vote had been expected on leadership, but the former leader said he resigned ahead of today’s full council meeting in the “best interests of the smooth running of Aberdeenshire Council and the administration.
Mr Kille, who has been a prominent member of the council as chairman of the Banff and Buchan area committee, today paid tribute in an online council meeting to Mr Gifford, and outlined his plans for the future.
He said one of his first moves will be to take a paper to full council aiming at revoking the extra delegated powers that were granted to officers in light of the pandemic, and argued it is time that elected members “resumed our full democratic role”.
Mr Kille said: “Councillor Gifford has been a member of this chamber for many years and has twice been leader of this council, as well as holding many other senior councillor roles.
“He has worked tremendously hard in all of his roles and this council, and the wider community, owe him a debt of gratitude.
“This has been a managed and smooth change over several months, with the baton passing seamlessly, and I would also like to thank Councillor Gifford for his part in that – along with others who also provided valuable assistance.
“I have around 35 years of experience in public service, with over 30 of those years in the police, and I have never seen a backdrop such as we have now. We face enormous challenges.”
Mr Kille explained that he will “continue to extend the offer of cross-chamber co-operation where we can”.
He continued: “Today I have democratically become the leader of the council.
“These democratic processes are the bedrock of our society and their outcomes need to be respected and supported.
“In any democracy, participation is the key, and my intention is to ensure that elected members play their full part.
“The chief executive at our full council meeting on 24 September this year told us that we are no longer technically in the response phase of the pandemic, but in the recovery phase.
“Since then, particularly recently, the numbers have sadly been going the wrong way.
“These peaks and troughs may well continue but the council cannot stay in emergency governance powers indefinitely.
“It has been eight months so far, and the consolidated business committee for example has not been needed, the recovery reference group has not needed to be as agile as we feared.
“So I shall be looking to bring a paper to full council soon, rescinding elements of the paper of March of this year – in which we granted extra delegations to officers – although the peaks and troughs may continue for some time to come, it is time that we resumed our full democratic role on behalf of our communities.
“Our tremendously hard-working officers and front line staff deserve this leadership and support and, yes, scrutiny from their elected members.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank those staff for all that they do.”
Deputy council leader and Lib Dem councillor Peter Argyle formally proposed to the council that Mr Kille take on the role as council leader.
He paid tribute to his long-standing colleague Mr Gifford, and said: “It’s quite a significant day today in the life of the council.
“We have to note the resignation of Councillor Gifford this morning, and I have to say I do so with some regret.
“I worked very closely with Jim as chair of infrastructure services, and as deputy leader.
“I have to say that I have the most tremendous admiration for his hard work, and the complete commitment that he has shown to his role and indeed to the council.
“I don’t think many people really appreciate how hard he has worked, and the amount of time and energy he has put into the role.”
Speaking of Mr Kille, he added: “Since his election by his Conservative colleagues, we have been through a very careful transition period that comes to an end today, and I venture suggest that we’ve done that better than has been achieved across the water in the White House.”
Mr Gifford said: “I am leaving the council today having served in the role of council leader for almost six and a half of the last eight and a half years.
“While leaving is not my choosing, I step down in the way I have performed all of my duties all of those years, with the very best interests of Aberdeenshire Council at heart.
“It has been my absolute pleasure and privilege to have been council leader and to represent the council and Aberdeenshire not only here in the north-east, but with all spheres of government in the UK.
He added: “This is a fantastic council, and it has been an honour to work with so many terrific people over so many years.
“When it comes to our staff, we have incredible officers the length and breadth of our full area working tirelessly for the people of Aberdeenshire that we are all here to represent.
“We have an enviable reputation for cross-party working, and demonstrating the very best of collaborative working on many, many occasions.
“There is much more that we agree on than we don’t, and our reputation for putting politics on the back burner and doing what is right for the people who elected us is one that we should defend with a passion.”
Mr Gifford also thanked his “good friend and colleague, Councillor Peter Argyle, for being the best deputy that anyone could ever wish for, and for his continued support and sound counsel over these past years.”
He added: “All good things must come to an end.”
Councillor Gwyneth Petrie, leader of the SNP Group on Aberdeenshire Council, said: “We as a partnership would like to put our thanks to Councillor Gifford on record, in particular my thanks for the way we have worked cohesively for the past months since I came in as opposition leader.
“We stand ready as an opposition, and are open to working with the new council leadership as we navigate further difficult months ahead for the good of those we represent.”
She added: “Although we as a partnership did hold reservations about a change in leadership during a pandemic, we recognise that it is purely a decision for the administration.
“As the main opposition, we stand ready to work with the new leader of the council.
“As we face some difficult months ahead, it is my hope that leaders, across all political groupings, can continue to work cohesively for the good of those we represent.”