A FREEDOM of Information request has revealed the number of held and cancelled surgeries by elected members in North Ayrshire since May 2017.

Opinion is divided about the importance of these meetings. Although most councillors have held several surgeries, some held none at all.

Councillor Scott Gallacher, Irvine West, said: “Even in this day and age of communication via email, text, etc, surgeries are still important.

“Many older residents of the area still prefer to come and speak to someone face to face, and this is where a surgery suits.

“It also gives reassurance that the issue is being dealt with, rather than disappearing into cyberspace.

“For this alone, it is important to continue the monthly opportunity for the peace of mind of the ward resident.”

Councillor Donald L Reid: “I have to advise that I no longer hold surgeries.

“After one year I only had four people attend and I could have dealt with each of the issues over the phone.

“I am totally open to all and will visit constituents with issues immediately as I take all issues raised very seriously.

“I visit old people complexes in Beith and Kilbirnie at least once each fortnight. Since being elected in May 2017 I have dealt with 1,085 individual issues raised by constituents and I do my very best with each and every issue raised, always getting back to complainers.”

Councillor John Easdale said: “I soon found out that not everyone had surgeries as some felt it was a waste of time, because of a low response and other means of contact such as email and council web page.

“The constituent turnout can be constant, but equally it can also be quiet.

“But I still believe it is an important function of a councillor to be at a certain pre arranged point where constituents can meet their councillor to discuss whatever issue they have within a council remit.”

Councillor Donald Reid said: “Councillors and the methods of communication have changed over the years with Messenger being by far the most popular communication method followed by phone and email.

“Although surgeries still have their place and with less councillors doing surgeries, I still see merit in them as long as the public are using this as a method to meet their councillor.”

Councillor Tom Marshall, who held no surgeries, said: “Some councillors in certain areas with a high proportion of council housing tend to get a reasonable turnout of Constituents at their surgeries.

“My past experience is that my constituents would rather make a direct contact by phone, mail or person rather than waiting for up to a month to see me face to face.

“Instead I respond within 24 hrs to emails phone calls, face to face meets and letters - average six per week.”

Provost Ian Clarkson, who held 44 surgeries, said: “Surgeries are important as they give the public the opportunity to meet their councillor and discuss any issues or concerns they may have.”

Councillor Timothy Billings said: “I hold a surgery once a month on Arran and also in Ardrossan so that people in both areas of my ward have an opportunity drop in and have a chat. However, by far the more popular for people to contact me is by phone or email. Whilst many issues can be sorted out by email or phone, I regularly arrange to meet up with residents to discuss their concerns.”

Councillor Robert Barr said: “I prefer to meet face to face you have a better idea of what your constituents are looking for and you know exactly who you’re speaking to.”

A North Ayrshire Council spokesperson said: “There is evidence across Scotland, that for some years, attendance at surgeries has been in decline. There is little relationship between the number of surgeries held by an individual councillor and the number of constituent queries they receive and deal with.

“Our councillors’ details are on our website and they can be contacted, via email or mobile phone, by constituents. The majority are also available via social media.”

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) is the national association of Scottish councils and acts as an employers’ association for its 32 member authorities.

Its guide suggests councillors “hold surgeries – regularly and often”.

Councillor Joy Brahim responded but did not wish to comment. No other councillors responded to the Times’ request for comment.

The numbers in the FOI relate to those put in the diary, as instructed by elected members, by council officers at the start of the year.