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Commission plans slammed as 'an insult to democracy' and 'a hammer blow to far north'

By Gordon Calder

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Plans to cut the number of Highland councillors have been slammed as “an insult to democracy” and “a hammer blow to the far north”.

Councillor Nicola Sinclair, who chairs the Caithness area committee, said the proposals by the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland show “a complete disregard and ignorance of rural geography and the challenges we already face”.

Councillor Struan Mackie (Thurso and Northwest Caithness) hopes the commission will drop the plans or come up with a suitable alternative.

Under the proposal there would be 72 councillors in the Highlands and 20 wards, which would be a loss of three councillors and one ward. In Caithness, there would be a total of seven councillors, down by one – three representing the landward area and two each in Thurso and Wick. Sutherland would have four councillors, down from six.

Councillor Sinclair (Wick and East Caithness) said: “The proposals are an insult to rural democracy that would see the voice of the far north marginalised once again. If these cuts go ahead it will be a 20 per cent reduction in councillors for Caithness in five years.

“The result of losing a councillor in Caithness will be a larger workload for the remaining members, making it even harder for us to attend all the community meetings and events spread across our vast county.

“If we’re to reverse depopulation and address the numerous challenges, both social and economic, facing our communities, we need a strong voice in the council chamber in Inverness and beyond. We have worked hard cross-party to achieve that since 2017 and want to continue in that vein, because that’s what voters want to see.”

Councillor Mackie pointed out that Highland Council had voted unanimously to reject the proposals which he said would be “damaging to local democracy and would represent a hammer blow to the far north of Scotland”. He said: “A further reduction in councillors, however small, would bring us closer to breaking point. If councillors cannot represent their constituents properly, the community will lose out.”

He said more than 1000 residents from across the region have signed his petition calling for the plans to be “consigned to the shredder". A public consultation ends on January 26.

“It is my hope that the commission will look at the strength of feeling and either drop the proposals or come up with a suitable alternative. If not we must take our case to Holyrood and ask Scottish Government ministers to intervene. If needed, Highland MSPs must be prepared to take up this battle on our behalf.”

Maree Todd, SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands, is also against the plans and has called them "completely unacceptable".

A public consultation on the proposals ends on January 26.

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