Edinburgh Council SNP group 'at war' after Lord Provost quits boards over economy concern
The Capital’s Lord Provost has quit his position on three management boards after seemingly becoming frustrated with the council’s direction of travel for the economy of the city.
The administration has been accused of “being at war with itself” after Lord Provost and SNP Cllr Frank Ross resigned as a director of the Capital City Partnership, CEC Holdings and the Bio Quarter advisory board. The symbolic move comes after Edinburgh City Council’s housing, homelessness and fair work committee, led by SNP Cllr Kate Campbell, refused to cough up funding for proposals by the Marketing Edinburgh board – after the organisation previously agreed to become self-sustainable amid £300,000 of budget cuts. The entire Marketing Edinburgh board resigned following the decision, including the Lord Provost, Labour Cllr Lezley Marion Cameron and Conservative Cllr Susan Webber.
The council administration says it is prioritising sustainable, economic growth and fair work practices in the city as well as tackling inequality. Coalition bosses are also thought to be prioritising managing tourism and striking more of a balance between residents and visitors instead of focusing on attracting people to the city – which was Marketing Edinburgh’s remit.
There have been signs of a growing division between Cllr Ross, who was ousted as SNP leader in a coup by current group and council leader, Cllr Adam McVey in 2017, and the senior leadership at the council in recent months. Although he did not air them publicly, Cllr Ross is understood to have had major reservations about the business case for the tram extension to Newhaven which he felt were not properly addressed. He is also believed to be concerned about the council’s treatment of the EICC conference business which the council owns and which returned record profits for the city last year.
In August, Cllr Ross failed in an attempted power-grab to become interim SNP leader while Cllr McVey was on adoption leave for six weeks. But his bid to oust the youngest member of his group for the role, Cllr Ellie Bird, fell flat due to a lack of support from his party colleagues.
One City Chambers source said: “Frank is furious at attempts to portray him as a disruptive influence on the Marketing Edinburgh board. He is a businessman and he understands how business works – far better than most other people on the council do.
“What he has been trying to do is look after the best interests of Marketing Edinburgh, and in doing so, he believes, the best interests of the city as a whole.
“Frank has been utterly professional in everything that he has done, but he is not being listened to, and he is extremely frustrated.”
Another source added: “Frank knows exactly what he is doing. By resigning from all these positions, he has lit the blue touch paper. From being leader of the council two years ago, he has now found himself very much an outsider within his own group. He doesn’t see eye to eye with the current SNP leadership in Edinburgh.
“They basically think he is a Tory who happens to believe in Independence and their agenda is much more left-wing.”
An administration source said they “would not be surprised if we had a Lord Provost sitting as an independent before the end of the council term”.
Opposition councillors have blasted the split in the SNP group and warned it is hampering the administration’s ability to look after the city.
Conservative group chairman, Cllr Jason Rust, said: “We appear to have an administration at war with itself and an SNP group which is split down the middle.
“If senior councillors do not have confidence in each other and their group’s policies how on earth can the residents of Edinburgh be expected to have any confidence at all in this calamity council administration?
“It seems that senior figures in the administration are seeking to undermine each other and are absolutely at odds on the council’s strategic direction on significant issues such as marketing and managing the visitor economy and wider approach to business and tourism.”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Kevin Lang added: “There’s no use in administration councillors going off in a huff. These cuts have all arisen because the SNP is starving local government of funding.
“If they really want to make a difference then they should stand up to their own party and demand better. Simply sulking in a corner won’t solve the council’s funding crisis.”
Labour group leader and depute council leader, Cllr Cammy Day, reiterated his support for the direction of travel of the administration in partnership with the SNP group leadership.
He said: “I work really well with Adam McVey in coalition as the council’s leadership.
“Any divisions in the SNP is for them to manage themselves and we will continue to work with them in coalition as we have done. “
The Lord Provost could not be reached for comment.