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INSIDE TRACK: Aberdeen and a city crying out for leadership

What on Earth is going on in Aberdeen?

While the city's football team enjoys a renaissance, the local council is bedevilled by the most avoidable of own goals.

The present Labour-led coalition took over from the remarkably incompetent LibDem/SNP administration that brought the council to the brink of bankruptcy. For a city that is among the most prosperous in the country, that was no mean achievement.

Although Labour became the council's largest group in 2012, the city is by no means natural Labour territory. Labour's success was largely due to its stance on several divisive issues, including Sir Ian Wood's offer to part-fund the redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens and a locally unpopular proposal for a new bridge over the River Don. Labour's opposition to both won it vital votes and seats.

However, Aberdeen is not an easy place to govern. It is a city with a split personality. The dominant voice within the civic psyche belongs to the oil industry. Around 45% of the area's jobs are oil related. The industry has brought prosperity to those directly and indirectly involved. It also has a fair conceit of itself. When working as a headteacher, my heart sank if a conversation with a parent opened with the dreaded words, "I work in the oil industry." I knew I was in for a lecture on the wonders of the oil business and the failings of public sector workers, usually me.

The industry's confidence, bordering on arrogance, flows from the perception that it can do no wrong. To be a Wood - or a Trump for that matter - implies the ability to walk on water. Dissenting voices get short shrift. This is a presentational problem for local Labour politicians who do not wish to appear "anti-business", but find that many of their core values do not sit easily with the ethos of the industry and its supporters.

This presentational dilemma is compounded by the astonishing naivety of some of the coalition's leading figures. The administration is justified in its belief that it receives an unfairly low financial settlement from the Scottish government.

However, the acrimonious relationship has descended into farce over issues such as the barring of government ministers from council properties. Personal abuse masquerades as political debate.

In the midst of the squabbling, issues that affect people's daily lives appear intractable. Grandiose schemes to regenerate the distressed city centre provoke much rolling of eyes. Traffic gridlock, arising from inept and inexplicable planning decisions, gets progressively worse.

Council leader, Barney Crockett, has done well to hold together the coalition's disparate factions. However, one has to question his wisdom in writing to all the city's council taxpayers supporting a No vote in September's referendum.

None of the party groupings is blameless for what is going on in Aberdeen. They have all contributed to a descent into Clochemerle politics. But the city is more than inconvenienced. It is crying out for local leadership capable of healing the current divisions in ways that benefit all sections of its population.

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Local government

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