Aberdeenshire Council’s new leader Andy Kille says he will work to be a “leader that listens” so the region can “build back stronger” post-pandemic.
In his first speech Mr Kille vowed to revoke delegated powers granted to officers because of the virus.
The Tory councillor, who represents the Fraserburgh and District ward, was appointed to head the local authority at yesterday’s full council meeting.
Mr Kille takes on the position after councillor Jim Gifford resigned from the job on Wednesday having been at the helm for six and a half of the past eight and a half years.
Mr Kille was elected the leader of the Conservative group on Aberdeenshire Council in June – a move which resulted in his predecessor resigning from the Tories and standing as an aligned independent instead.
Mr Kille – who has been a prominent member of the council as chairman of the Banff and Buchan area committee – 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 push for 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”.
The new council leader 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.
“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 said he intends to be a “leader that listens” to elected members, residents and businesses of Aberdeenshire “so we can build back stronger, together”.
He continued: “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.”
He added: “So I shall be looking to bring a paper to full council soon, rescinding elements of the paper from 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.”
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.”
Aberdeenshire Council must abandon “salami-slicing” budgeting as it seeks to make £60 million worth of savings and deal with the financial devastation brought about by the pandemic.
At yesterday’s full council meeting, members agreed a revised approach for its medium-term financial strategy to deal with pressures on the authority’s coffers caused by Covid-19.
They also considered options to save £60m by March 2022.
Among officer’s proposals to achieve the savings – which will be decided upon next year – include slashing spending on education by £2.5m and infrastructure services by £7.3m.
Council leader Andy Kille said: “We know the latest prediction is a deficit of £46 million, but we also know there are a range of unknowns ahead of us – the level of settlement from the Scottish Government, next year’s council tax rate and the extent of fiscal flexibilities available to mention just three.”
He added: “I support the recommendations to update the medium term financial strategy, as this reflects the reality of where we are just now and provides a solid platform from which to consider service delivery choices.”
SNP group leader Councillor Gwyneth Petrie said: “You will all be familiar with my colleague’s infamous ‘salami-slicing’ term.
“This is what we cannot continue to do.
“This form of budgeting may lead to us cutting too close to budget lines or being unable to deliver our priorities or lead to other unintended consequences elsewhere.”