Council leader gives insight into his role

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AT a time when being an influential Tory in high places is something of a rarity in Scottish politics, an hour or so in the company of an Aberdeenshire Conservative who is the leader of council made for an interesting meeting.

When Jim Gifford took the reins of one of Scotland’s most respected councils, he did so with the confidence of a man who knows his patch, genuinely committed to ’making a difference.’

Jim, like many incomers to the area, loves the North-east, having had considerable experience of both business in the oil and energy sector, as well as hands on political experience gleaned over a period of 24 years.

“Coming to the Aberdeen area in 1988 was the best move I have ever made. You could say it is now home for myself and my family,” said the Glasgow born civil engineer who will be 56 next week.

When asked about his interest in all things political he admitted it had relatively late for him, inspired by watching TV and a gross piece of manipulation by the Labour party of a young person for political gain.

“I was incensed and immediately rang the local Conservative office in Inverurie and offered my services which led to me becoming involved in local and national politics,” he said.

His involvement from handing out leaflets led to him standing as a candidate in Gordon District, and Grampian Region, both now of blessed memory, before going on to stand unsuccessfully for the party in the Westminster election of 1997 and the Scottish one in 2003.

“I am hooked on the buzz of elections, thoroughly enjoying the cut and thrust of politics, but not so much that I can’t see the issues which need to be tackled. Leading Aberdeenshire has helped put my targets in perspective,” said the owner of Signs Express (Aberdeen).

He added: “I strongly believe my business experience is extremely helpful in the debate about how the area evolves. We are also lucky to have a good partnership between elected members and officials, all working in the interests of the Aberdeenshire public. Knowledge of the oil industry is very useful.”

But while Jim has been influenced by business and politics contacts, it will come as no surprise to hear that wife Katy has had a considerable input to his development.

“We have been totally in harmony about my political career, though when I first posed the idea of coming to the North-east she took some convincing, but now, like me, she agrees it was the best thing we ever did,” he said of the woman who he has been married to for 31 years.

The relationship has produced twin daughters Kirsty and Emily, who were born in 1992.

“Having three ladies around the house kept my feet on the ground, and probably helped me cope in the debating chamber,” said the member for Mid Fortmartine, who counts former convener of Grampian, John Porter, as one of the great influences on his political career.

Jim also believes the world of local politics is becoming less confrontational.

He said: “After the trauma of the first few weeks after the May elections this year we are settling down. There will always be conflict, but at the end of the day elected members know we have to serve the interests of our respective communities. Failure to do so will bring its own reward.”

Keeping a number of balls in the air has become the norm for the new leader, who confessed it was a huge responsibility to keep tabs on the £470 million budget Aberdeenshire has at its disposal. He also admitted to having less leisure time.

He said: “My golf has become a thing of the past, but I’ll get back to it before too long. In the meantime there is a job to be done here at the council!”

Jim closed the interview with a warning to the SNP and in particular its leader Alex Salmond.

“Once the case for a Yes vote has been made and lost, we’ll get back to running our individual councils, and even how to work together on behalf of the country,” he said.