FALKIRK’S council leader believes the SNP’s management of the coronavirus pandemic will result in an increase in support for the party at the local elections.

The region’s SNP group has fielded 16 candidates in the hope of clinching a majority.

Although the single transferable vote system – where people rank candidates by preference – is designed to work against a group achieving overall power, council leader Cecil Meiklejohn believes her group will enjoy a surge in support based on its performance throughout the Covid crisis.

A poll recently showed the party is on course to win 44% of first preference votes, a jump up from 32% last time out.

The party – which won the most seats in 2017 – currently has 11 councillors in Falkirk and runs an administration with several Independents. Prior to this, the region was under the rule of a Labour and Conservative coalition for a decade.

Councillor Meiklejohn says she is confident her party has won back the support of communities over the past five years after the relationship between the local authority and the public, she claims, disintegrated during that coalition spell.

And she is confident from the response on the doorsteps so far they will get the 16 victories they require to secure a majority.

She told The National: “People seem hopeful for the future with everything that’s been done by the Scottish Government and the council.

“I think throughout the pandemic people have felt confident in the SNP and that has really allowed us to reset our relationship with communities. I really hope we can continue to move forward with that.

“We had a Labour-led administration for 10 years prior to 2017 and during that time the local authority became very inward-looking and did not have as good a relationship as it should have done with partners.

“Our aim is to look at an outright majority. We are the only group capable of that, neither Labour or the Conservatives have put out enough candidates and I feel that is a huge risk to the area as they may seek to go into a coalition again.

“I don’t feel they really delivered for the area at all compared to when the SNP, supported by independents, were in administration between 2001 and 2007, when they secured the biggest lottery bid in Scotland creating Helix Park and the Kelpies. It also created six new schools.

“People have seen the benefits of having a Scottish Government throughout the pandemic and the financial constraints the government has. I think the independence question will be very much in people’s minds at this election.”

The council area covers the main towns of Falkirk and Grangemouth alongside the likes of Polmont, Larbert, Stenhousemuir, Bonnybridge, Bo’ness, Shieldhall, Denny and a cluster of Braes villages.

The National: Grangemouth chemical plant in GrangemouthGrangemouth chemical plant in Grangemouth

It’s a region which enjoys being desirably placed an almost equal distance from Glasgow and Edinburgh, attracting huge amounts of investment and lapping up a real surge in tourism in recent years with attractions such as the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel.

Like much of the Central Belt, it used to be a Labour heartland. Up until the 1970s the mining industry was the central plank of the area’s economy and the Grangemouth refinery on the Firth of Forth is still to this day a major employer.

Councillor Meiklejohn says the area continues to be a great place of opportunity and she is keen to build on the achievements of the past term which have included securing the multi-million pound Falkirk Growth Deal which is expected to result in up to 2000 jobs and £1 billion of future investment in the region.

Projects will include a sustainable transport hub and a “regionally significant” arts centre and the agreement will help Grangemouth’s petrochemical complex, which currently produces 10% of Scotland’s carbon emissions, transition to net zero.

The National: A rainbow over Denny town centre, Falkirk, which once collected an award for Scotland's most dismal place when the original recipients refused to receive the trophyA rainbow over Denny town centre, Falkirk, which once collected an award for Scotland's most dismal place when the original recipients refused to receive the trophy

An annual report showing how school leavers fared last year also showed 95.4% of pupils had positive destinations when leaving school – the highest the council has ever had.

“We feel we’ve achieved a lot during our five years, the biggest thing being the Falkirk Growth Deal which will focus on the transition that’s needed from carbon-based fuels to greener fuels and, over and above that, town centre regeneration,” she added.

“We’ve also done a lot around community empowerment and this is something we want to continue to build on because I have seen how much of a difference community efforts have made during the pandemic.

“We’ve also made big strides in educational attainment over the last five years which is great considering the difficult circumstances we have been in.

“The main issues in these next few years are going to be around economic regeneration and recovery and the creation of jobs.”

Looking ahead, representatives of Holyrood and Westminster have recently backed Forth Ports’ vision for the creation of a green growth corridor, which the firm states has the potential to create 50,000 new jobs.

The proposal, which has entered into a 12-week bidding process, aims to act as a catalyst for new green technologies and renewable energy manufacturing which will make a significant contribution to the re-industrialisation of Scotland.

Out in the community, there are hopes the council will prioritise improving people’s mental and physical health in the wake of the pandemic.

Volunteers at Stenhousemuir Football Club helped to provide more than 10,000 meals for the vulnerable throughout the crisis and saw first-hand how their efforts made a difference.

CEO Blair Cremin is hoping to see the council continue supporting those in need in the same way the club did. Blair said: “There absolutely needs to be a focus on people’s health, mental and physical.

“We provide opportunities for people to work on that and I’d be interested to see how other institutions, like the council, are putting health front and centre of what they are trying to achieve.”

Scotland’s ballots will be cast in the local elections on May 5. Between now and polling day, The National will profile EVERY ONE of the country’s 32 local authorities. Click HERE to see all of those published so far.