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Charles Bannerman: Time to bring an end to unnecessary spending

By Charles Bannerman

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Former Provost Helen Carmichael in her robes - a new set have been ordered for her successor.
Former Provost Helen Carmichael in her robes - a new set have been ordered for her successor.

Does no-one at Highland Council have the remotest notion how utterly crass it is to be squandering £2600 on new robes for the Provost at a time of crippling financial stringency? Adding in the lack of a Christmas lights ceremony due to cost takes this well into “couldn’t make it up” territory.

Rather than waste scarce public funds on this tomfoolery, they’d be better selling the council’s entire chest of bling and fancy dress to some comic opera company. There’s no room in modern, cash-strapped local government for outdated absurdities like this, so any excuse new kit is “needed” is nonsense.

But what’s really annoying me about these Emperor’s New Clothes is the mindset that underpins such fiscal irresponsibility. Do Provost Sinclair and whoever else waved this through not have the insight to spot the horrendous own goal and the horribly bad taste? Do they not understand the questions that must arise about what they think they are there for?

When people are struggling to buy food and despairing over getting their bins emptied or their crumbling schools replaced(what say you, Charleston Academy parents?), the provost decking herself out in publicly-funded finery is just another instance of Marie Antoinette advising the peasants to eat cake.

And the extravagances don’t stop here. At this month’s Armistice Parade, I was dismayed yet again to see a huge, hired, top of the range, chauffeur-driven limo sitting in Cavell Gardens to collect the provost and her equally sartorially anachronistic entourage. Given the ethos of equality that otherwise permeates this distinguished event, why can’t they parade with the rest and walk the 300 yards to Ness Bank Church for the salute?

Or if they still insist on being driven, what’s wrong with a school minibus? We do not have the money any more to fund council types in expensive finery hopping in and out of luxury motors. This privileged grandstanding must be dispensed with.

On the irony of this new kit coinciding with the withdrawal of the lights switch-on, I must say that, very nice though it is, this is another of several luxuries that can no longer be afforded either. Essential services must take absolute priority, hence also my suggestion earlier this month that we don’t have public funds go up in smoke at fireworks displays.

And do they still have civic receptions? Surely battalions of folk knocking back taxpayer funded banquets and booze is no longer realistic.

How much does Highland Council waste on public relations consultants, simply to make itself look good and providing no benefit to tax payers? (But clearly not advising about the Provost’s new gear!)

Meanwhile, of “civic art”, little more needs said, but since the Gathering Place and associated projects have become a sort of Ground Zero for all that’s ill-conceived about council expenditure, it’s worth gasping in horror yet again.

What alternatives, of actual use, could have been realised with £250,000 of Common Good Fund money and £106,000 of normal council funds?

Far too often, the Common Good Fund has been hijacked as a catch-all cash cow for jolly japes and wacky wheezes. This needs to stop and, if necessary by changing the rules, its assets need directed towards essentials which are becoming more and more difficult to come by.

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