Last Updated on Friday, 01 June 2012 15:35 Written by Aileen MacNicol Wednesday, 25 April 2012 13:47
FOUR WOULD-BE councillors faced Dunoon voters on Tuesday evening in the second of two local authority election hustings arranged by Cowal resident Dave Dewar.
Dick Walsh (Independent), Michael Breslin (SNP), Mick Rice (Labour), and Tony Miles (LibDem) are four of six candidates for the Dunoon electoral ward, which goes to the polls on May 10.
Two other candidates - Bill Green (Conservative) and Jimmy McQueen (Independent), were unable to attend. Mr McQueen had a longstanding prior engagement and Argyll and Bute Conservatives contacted Mr Dewar to advise that Mr Green would not be present.
A peaceful protest outside the hustings from parents against the proposed primary schools merger may have given the candidates some clues as to what to expect.
Chair Dave Dewar invited each candidate to give a short introduction before opening for questions.
It is no surprise that the Dunoon town centre ferry service was a key issue.
Dick Walsh pointed out his track record on the ferries, adding: “I think before too long the current operator will be knocking on the Scottish Government’s door asking it to do something - especially given the usage of the service.
“I understand that the contract allows for a review if there is a 15 per cent reduction in usage, and it must be about that now.”
Mick Rice said: “I think Alex Neil will come through. However, I believe that the council could go further by being proactive in terms of borrowing money to help fund new boats”
Michael Breslin emphasised the importance of ensuring no cross-subsidy between the passenger and car elements of the service, adding: “The people of Dunoon did not support the CalMac car service - that’s a fact.
“The situation has not been handled well by anyone, and worst of all is the appalling incompetence of the civil servants who have acted with ignorance and mendacity.”
Tony Miles agreed that something has to be done: “There has been prevarication by several governments and I call on the current Scottish Government to make good on its 2007 promises.”
An interesting question from a fellow candidate, Chris Talbot, who is standing in the Cowal ward, illustrated how councillors must balance serving the entire Argyll and Bute area as well as their individual wards.
Mr Talbot asked the panel: “It’s May, and you’ve all been elected. You have some millions to invest - but you have to choose between the Rest and be Thankful or new ferries for Dunoon. Which do you choose?”
Mr Walsh, Mr Breslin and Mr Miles each said they would have to choose the Rest, but Mr Rice - a founder member of the Dunoon-Gourock Ferry Action Group - said: “I’d have to go for ferries for Dunoon.”
The proposed primary schools merger was an issue which tested each of the candidates, not least Mr Walsh, with protesters vociferous in their opposition of the plans.
They asked each of the panel if they had found anyone who supported the proposed merger - and all admitted they had not.
One woman said they had been told that if the new campus did not proceed, the funding award would be lost - to which Mr Breslin responded that he had a commitment that this was not the case.
“If we form an administration, we will review the situation,” he said. “But the three schools are in poor condition and the current proposal may be the only viable one. The money coming from the Scottish Government will not be lost or unavailable if there is another option.”
“That gives me a lot of comfort,” replied Mr Walsh. “I have not had that information.”
After being pressed by parents, Mr Walsh did say: “If there is a groundswell of public opinion against it, then we’ll kill it. But we do have to find a way forward.”
Responding to pressure about consultation with parents - and the wider community, as advocated by Mr Miles - Mr Walsh agreed that a public meeting on the issue would be held “as soon as is practical and possible.”
The candidates were also quizzed on roads, promoting equality and planning policy, before Simon Richardson brought the hustings to a close with laughter with a question about their knowledge of everyday life for their prospective constituents.
“How much does this cost?” he asked, holding aloft a pint of milk.
“£1.10,” replied Mr Miles, while Mr Rice guessed £0.87.
Mr Breslin said he didn’t know, and Mr Walsh admitted: “I haven’t a clue, and I worked with the stuff for 50 years.”
On being told the correct answer was between 49p and 59p, he finished with: “I can remember when it cost fourpence ha’penny!”