New Stirling Council leader Johanna Boyd comes to the role at what could arguably be said to be one of the most difficult times in decades for Scottish local government.
Stirling Council is making more than £9 million in savings in 2013/14 alone, and while the Labour/Conservative administration say their priority is to protect services, there will inevitably be “casualties” which opposition parties will be quick to take it to task over.
As leader of an organisation with more than 3500 staff (of whom 70 per cent are women) and a budget of £200 million, she has responsibility for delivering a huge range of services from education and social care to road repairs and leisure, while having to make cuts of around £24 million in the next four years.
However, she said: “It is a privilege to be asked to lead the council. I am a passionate believer in the importance of local authority services and what they can do to help build stronger communities and improve families’ lives. These are difficult times for Scotland’s councils as spending cuts imposed by the Holyrood and Westminster governments mean they are having to make massive savings, yet it is local councils who will be seen to be ones not providing a service or having to do something differently.
“Despite these challenges, I am determined to do all I can to protect services, especially those needed by the young, old and vulnerable.”
Effective joint working and pooling of resources with other local public sector bodies, such as the police and NHS, is she believes key to ensuring that happens.
“It is fine to have that on paper, but it can be more difficult in terms of making it happen. But when it is done well with the right support it can make things happen and is something that is now being taken seriously.”
Making the council and its business more open and accessible to the public is another priority, as is reversing what she sees as growing centralisation of powers to the Scottish Government.
“We should be taking back control of local decision making in order to deliver services geared to the needs of the communities we know and represent. We need to be serious about the value of local democracy.”
Even closer to home, she is keen to continue pushing Stirling Council to be more “councillor-led, not officer-led”, something she says was allowed to happen under the previous SNP administration.
Much has been made of the fact Stirling Council’s new leader is a woman – and, in the world of politics, a young one at that.
But Johanna Boyd would love to see the day where she is no longer an exception, and when there is no longer a need to have gender on the agenda. Until then she seems happy to play some part in progressing change on the issue.
“The reason I have been given this opportunity is because of two very experienced male councillors, Corrie McChord and John Hendry. While it was a whole group decision it was through their mentoring and their support that I found myself in this position. We are lucky as a group to have almost a century of local government experience in John, Corrie and Margaret Brisley alone, with also half of our councillors new blood, which is a great combination.
“I also couldn’t do this if my husband wasn’t supportive in how my day works. Because of the demands of children etc we need our male partners to support us in facilitating what we do. If I didn’t have that in my partner there’s no way it would work, and there’s also a whole support network that goes beyond that.
“But if I have a role in anything it is to foster young people and encourage better reflection of the fact our communities are 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women. Half our group are women, something I am very proud of.
“The day we are not even talking about such issues, however, will be the day we have found the balance. It’s pretty ridiculous, not politically but as a nation, when only two councils in 32 have women leaders.”