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Councillor Andrew Jarvie quits Conservative group over Wick care home row

By Scott Maclennan

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A bitter dispute erupted at Highland Council amid accusations that members were not told everything the local authority knew about the timing over the closure of Avonlea children’s home in Wick.

Recriminations over the issue were so severe that it provoked the resignation from the Conservative party of the former group leader, Wick and East Caithness ward councillor Andrew Jarvie, who said he could no longer do his job.

Last week, the Caithness Courier revealed that the £1.2 million home was due to close by Christmas and in August covered the announcement that it was set to close – reports cited by Cllr Andrew Jarvie at the meeting.

Cllr Andrew Jarvie is now looking to set up his own political group. Picture: Callum Mackay
Cllr Andrew Jarvie is now looking to set up his own political group. Picture: Callum Mackay

But in between August and December, Cllr Jarvie claimed that the mixed and changing messages from the council officers, including the departing chief executive Donna Manson, were such that he was left "feeling misled".

That was borne out in part by the council announcing Avonlea's closure in August, then saying it would simply be vacated temporarily in September before confirming it could now close before Christmas.

The accusation from Cllr Jarvie about the chief executive drew an angry reaction from Convener Bill Lobban who said: “Now, Andrew I'll give you one option to apologise for that, right now. Right now. Andrew? In that case I propose to exclude you from the meeting.”

In the background Mrs Manson could be heard asking for a formal apology, and saying: “I want a written apology. I want a right of reply,” but she was rebuffed by Cllr Lobban, and Cllr Jarvie did apologise.

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Cllr Jarvie says “the fiasco of Avonlea Children’s Home in Wick has brought this all to a head” but that he will not resign as a councillor as he intends to set-up his own Highland Unionist group.

“Avonlea previously scored the highest possible grade for its care and support but the council has let standards slip so low that in November the Care Inspectorate issued a Section 62 Improvement Notice," he said.

“This means immediate improvement is needed or it will be forced to close. Being in care is traumatic enough, being forced out of your home right before Christmas is just heart-breaking.

“Only two out of 336 children’s homes in the whole of Scotland have been issued with a Section 62 Notice this year. It is an exceptional course of action. Throughout this affair, the council have at no point provided all Caithness councillors with any written updates.”

On the possible new group, he said: “My values are unchanged. I always felt like the Conservative Party was the best embodiment of that, but right now it is clear to me that it isn’t.

“I am actively in discussions with a number of councillors across the political spectrum about setting up a ‘Highland Unionist’ group in the council chamber to bring together those who share the same care and passion.”

Highland Council said it does not comment on member conduct, but a spokesperson added on Avonlea: “Highland Council officers continue to work closely with the Care Inspectorate who are aware of our planned closure of this service. There continues to be careful planning for each child and those young adults involved."

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