Ex-leader will quit council next year

Harry McGuigan, far right, and fellow Labour councillors celebrate a new council housing development in Bellshill earlier this year.

Harry McGuigan, far right, and fellow Labour councillors celebrate a new council housing development in Bellshill earlier this year.

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The first leader of North Lanarkshire Council is to stand down from politics at next year’s elections.

Labour stalwart Harry McGuigan steered the new authority through its early days after local government re-organisation in 1996.

The former teacher, who lives in Mossend, is stepping aside after 33 years as a councillor. He was first elected to Motherwell District Council where he represented a Bellshill ward and served as chairman of the economic development committee.

He was elected leader of the new authority which replaced the district council, but resigned in 1998 after the council’s direct labour organisation ran up a £4.5 million deficit on the back of an over-generous bonus and overtime structure.

The council came in for severe criticism and the scandal resulted in an overhaul in the way in which authorities maintain and repair their housing stock.

However, despite this setback he continued to hold senior posts on the council, serving as convener of social work for eight years until 2007.

At national level he has been the community wellbeing and safety spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities for the past nine years.

Confirming his decision to retire, Councillor McGuigan said: “It’s been a happy time and I have been delighted to serve the people of Bellshill, Motherwell District and North Lanarkshire.

“Of course, there have been tough times and one of them was the DLO affair. I called for a public inquiry into that which the Scottish Secretary at the time, Donald Dewar, denied us.

“An audit then exonerated me totally. These things happen and you have to show resilience and come back which I have tried to do.

“I’ll always remember that the year after the DLO situation people were shaking hands with me in the street and I was re-elected in Bellshill with a huge majority.”

Councillor McGuigan rejected any suggestion that he is standing aside because prospects for Labour in next year’s elections are not looking good, with the SNP aiming to take control of the council.

He said: “That has nothing to do with my decision.”