Peter de Vink explains split from SNP

Monday November 14th 2016

Councillor Peter de Vink

Midlothian independent Councillor Peter de Vink

Written by Phil Bowen, editor

Since the local council elections in 2012, the SNP have been in partnership with independent Councillor Peter de Vink which has enabled them to run the council.

The partnership was necessary as of the 18 Midlothian councillors, 8 are SNP, 8 are Labour, 1 is Green and 1 is independent, thus as a group of 9 the SNP and Councillor de Vink were able to run the council.

As of last week the SNP announced they were ending their partnership with Councillor de Vink.

Today Midlothian View spoke to Councillor de Vink to hear his side of the story.

He said the break up started a few weeks ago when the Scottish Government announced that it was increasing Council tax for bands E to H but that this money would be diverted to other parts of the country, thereby £1.2m of Midlothian Council Tax would be spent outside the county. Councillor de Vink is very supportive of the increase, especially after 8 years of no increases, but he is very clear that it should be spent in Midlothian.

Along with Green Councillor, Ian Baxter, he raised a motion for consideration at the last council meeting, proposing that Midlothian Council should state that they regretted that local taxation was being spent elsewhere and that the SNP Leader of the Council would write to the Scottish Government to request a commitment that no similar action would be taken in the future.

They later withdrew the motion when Council Leader, Catherine Johnstone, said it was unnecessary as she was already going to write a letter.

Then a few days prior to the council meeting, when Councillor de Vink asked Councillor Johnstone for a copy of the letter, he was astounded to find out that she had changed her mind and was now not going to write the letter. When he asked her why, Councillor Johnstone said she did not want to be the only SNP controlled council that criticised the SNP government.

At this point as the council meeting was now less than eight days away Councillors Baxter and de Vink could not re-raise their motion.

Shortly afterwards Councillor de Vink attended a meeting to discuss the council’s budget shortfall of £8m. At that meeting he queried why, when faced with budget cuts, the SNP councillors were still committed to ensuring no compulsory redundancies at the council.

He said:

“Given that 66% of the council budget is made up of staff salaries and wages, without the opportunity to cut staff costs, that left having to make savings of £8m from the remaining £70m and thus inevitably council services would be severely cut.”

Councillor de Vink told Midlothian View that:

“The SNP say that “no compulsory redundancies” are sacrosanct and then add that this will not be in their manifesto next year. How intellectually dishonest can you get. Next year is too late, so I tried to persuade them that we should expand Switch [a process for re-training, re-deploying or helping staff to find alternative employment] dramatically and work passionately at reducing the payroll which has been the only thing not cut in Midlothian during the period I have served as a Councillor but they would have none of it.

“We have an unbelievable 66 per cent of all income that goes on the wage bill. There are 4,000 people who work for Midlothian Council while 85,000 people live there. I feel it is fundamentally wrong to benefit the 4,000 at the expense of the 85,000 who suffer cuts in their services.”

Shortly after the meeting the SNP ended their partnership with the independent Councillor.

Asked how this would affect any council votes now, Councillor de Vink said

“I will now be a critic of them when required.”

A spokesperson for the SNP Midlothian group today said:

“Councillor de Vink, signed an agreement with the Midlothian SNP council group immediately following the 2012 elections, this agreement included collective decision making.

“The Midlothian SNP group gave a clear manifesto commitment to protecting jobs in Midlothian Council and are proud of their record in administration. Implementation of the living wage, a programme of improving low pay and protecting jobs with a no compulsory redundancy policy have provided economic stability to Midlothian in challenging times.

“We were therefore saddened to hear Councillor de Vink’s comments attacking the hard working employees of the council and calling for an end to the SNP Councils groups manifesto pledge of no compulsory redundancy. As a result of a divergence of opinion which leaves a continued partnership unviable – a decision to end formal coalition was unanimous and effective as of 8th November 2016.”

Labour Leader Derek Milligan, told Midlothian View:

“Despite their continual referrals to Tory austerity the SNP councillors in Midlothian have relied on the support of a right wing, card carrying Tory for the last four and a half years and have now engineered a break up as the 2017 Council elections approach. However, people will not forget this fact at the ballot box.

“On Councillor de Vink’s part, if he is reconsidering his position on issues that we have had disagreements on in the past then we welcome his change of heart and look forward to his support when it comes to voting on such matters, however, unlike the SNP we do not intend to consider any more formal arrangements with Councillor de Vink.

“It is unlikely to make much of a difference between now and the election as, despite his claims to be non-aligned to either main party, Green Party Councillor, Ian Baxter has consistently supported the SNP when they were in danger of defeat. His abstention in last week’s vote on Police numbers in Midlothian, despite supporting this at an earlier meeting, was the latest example of this.”

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