DON’T mention Brexit. That seems to be the golden rule in Aberdeenshire, at least if you’re in the coalition currently running the council.

The incumbent administration is led by a Conservative-LibDem pact, and the issue of exiting the EU hasn’t exactly gone smoothly.

“Essentially the council has been in a stagnant position for five years,” Gwyneth Petrie, the SNP group leader, says. “We’ve had an administration that’s been full of infighting.

“Brexit has put a significant divide between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, and I think that’s become more and more apparent to the point where Brexit isn’t mentioned in any of our official papers, [we think] because of the level of disruption that will cause to the administration.”

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It is not only between the Tories and LibDems that Brexit has become a wedge issue, there is also a divide between Conservatives and other Conservatives.

“We took a view as an administration that we should oppose the Brexit decision,” Jim Gifford, the council’s former Tory leader told the Press and Journal last month.

“There was such an exchange of views in the Conservative group, we tried not to knock lumps out of each other. “

The stooshie finally saw Gifford step down from his leadership roles altogether, becoming an independent councillor. Gifford’s abdication led to Andy Kille, another Tory, becoming the leader of Aberdeenshire council.

Kille is supported by LibDem deputy leader Peter Argyle. The pair’s parties returned a combined 37 seats in the 2017 elections, enough to hold a majority on the 70-seat council.

However, the Tories have since seen their numbers drop from 23 to 18, and the LibDems from 14 to 13, meaning the 40-member ruling administration has its numbers made up by a group of aligned independents.

Whether rumours of a ban on saying the word Brexit have any substance, the issue is at the forefront of people’s minds in Aberdeenshire, an area which relies on farming and fishing.

Petrie says: “We’re hearing about Brexit a lot. My ward has got lots of farmers in it and Brexit comes up a lot.

“It’s not just farming and fishing actually, we’re seeing it throughout. ‘Our housing delivery is delayed because of supplies because of a Brexit issue’ or ‘we can’t get these chemicals into the country because of Brexit’. There’s just so many delays because of various things and it’s all down to this.”

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Petrie says the issue, far from going away, has become more pronounced after news broke of the UK Government’s failure to match EU structural funds.

Pre-Brexit, those EU funds were worth a total of around £1.5 billion a year. However, the Tories’ replacement Shared Prosperity Fund will only be worth £400 million in 2022. This will rise to £700m in 2023-2024, and to £1.5bn in 2024-25.

“It’s not just those industries [farming and fishing] now, though they have been hugely impacted,” Petrie says. “More and more folk are beginning to realise just the damage that’s being done.”

Brexit is far from the only national issue at play in Aberdeenshire. The law-breaking Prime Minister’s lockdown partying and a justtransition from oil and gas is also on people’s lips, not to mention the cost of living crisis.

“Fuel is going up, groceries are going up, the price of fish and chips, all prices are going up,” Rachel Shanks, a Green candidate for Stonehaven and Lower Deeside says.

Listing the end of the Erasmus scheme, difficulties around research funding for universities, and issues with sourcing seasonal farm workers, Shanks says Brexit has affected lots of different people, but adds there are two main issues she has been hearing about from voters: increasing prices, and potholes.

“Council budgets are to be spent on education, social care, important services. With the roads it’s maybe an area to save a little bit of money. I think potholes are the most visible sign that councils perhaps don’t have enough funding,” says Shanks, who is co-executive chair of the Scottish Greens alongside West of Scotland MSP Ross Greer.

But while the administration in Aberdeenshire can take little blame for Brexit, the cost of living crisis, or their funding allocation, there is one local issue which can be laid squarely at its feet: the shambles around the relocation of council headquarters.

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As it stands, Aberdeenshire is the only local authority in Scotland which has its HQ outwith its own jurisdiction. The council is run from Woodhill House in Aberdeen, meaning Aberdeenshire council is forced to pay business rates to its city counterpart.

When the SNP held power before the 2017 election, they had a plan to move the central HQ to Inverurie and beef up office sites across the region. When they lost control in 2017, the new administration scrapped that plan in favour of one large new site in Inverurie.

“That took five years to progress, and now they’ve just pulled the planning application for that and said we need to start again. That entire programme has gone out the window and we’re back to where we were five years ago. Five wasted years,” Petrie says.

The SNP group leader hopes the mess will contribute to a drop in votes for the Tories and LibDems involved in the ruling coalition, and allow her party to retake control over Aberdeenshire’s administration after May 5.

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.