Opposition groups on South Ayrshire Council have hit out at the creation of a "hand-knitted" senior role for one of the authority's newest councillors.

The appointment, for independent Ayr West councillor Bob Shields, is part of a shake-up of the council’s decision making structure less than a year after the elections.

The move to create a new cabinet position for 'future developments and special projects' - or 'Developing South Ayrshire' - was originally due to go before council in December, with Cllr Shields explicitly named for the role.

However, the proposal was withdrawn from the agenda for that month's council meeting - and chief legal officer Catriona Caves was asked for specific legal advice on it by the ruling Conservative minority administration.

The plan was brought back to the table at the council's March 1 meeting by Conservative council leader, and fellow Ayr West representative, Martin Dowey - this time revised to state that one of the authority's independent councillors should take on the new role.

It also meant that a final decision on the proposal could be made on the strength of Provost Iain Campbell’s casting vote.

The council also agreed to reduce the number of oversight committees from three to two.

The audit and governance panel will remain the same, but the service and performance panel and the partnerships panel will merge, with a Labour member chairing.

Both the SNP and Labour opposition groups had put forward alternative proposals, with Labour nominating its group leader, Cllr Brian McGinley (Ayr East), to the new cabinet post.

And Cllr Peter Henderson (Girvan and South Carrick), leader of the SNP group, argued that the three existing oversight panels should be retained, saying the merger move raised concerns about the "democratic deficit" and the need to have adequate scrutiny.

Councillor Philip Saxton (Labour, Troon) said: “Councillor McGinley would be an asset to Cabinet with his experience as portfolio holder.

“Councillor Dowey was saying we should work across the council, so that’s what we are trying to do.”

He claimed that the Conservatives were "trying to shut us up and close us down" .

Cllr Saxton also had direct words for Cllr Shields, saying that "after 10 months he seems to have learned it all" and saying he would “look forward to seeing what he brought forward”.

Cllr Dowey responded: “Labour aren’t allowed to work with the Conservatives.”

This sparked some back and forth discussion, with Cllr Dowey asking Cllr McGinley: “Are you allowed to be in the cabinet? I don’t think you are.

“We are very happy with the experience that that Cllr Shields brings.

“Cllr McGinley has lots of experience, there is no taking away from that, but Cllr Shields brings lots of real life experience, which this council badly needs.”

Cllr McGinley took umbrage at Cllr Dowey’s comments, telling him: “I do have real life experience too. I haven’t lived in some ivory tower.”

Cllr Dowey said that he was talking about Cllr Shields, but the Labour councillor said that he had inferred that he didn’t have the real life experience.

He added: “There is nothing to prevent me working with you in cabinet. Especially since your plea for us is to work with you.

"That would be a way to avail yourselves of my experience and abilities.”

SNP councillor Laura Brennan-Whitefield (Ayr North) asked whether the reduction in scrutiny panels was viable after strong recommendations made by Audit Scotland.

Cllr Dowey said: “We took consultation from officers to make sure it didn’t impact on Audit Scotland and we are quite happy with that.”

Councillor Julie Dettbarn (SNP, Kyle) said that the move had been described as a review of the political decision making structure - but argued that it was very different.

She said the proposal was "dressed up" as a review to allow the decision to create a ‘hand-knitted portfolio’ to be decided by the Provost’s casting vote.

“It is a subversion of democracy," she said, "and it is very clear. No offence to Cllr Shields.”

Councillor Craig Mackay (SNP, Troon) said he believed the legal advice was sought with a view to finding a loophole for the move, and wasn’t in the ‘spirit’ of the rules.

However, Ms Caves took issue with that suggestion, telling Cllr Mackay that she had been asked specifically for legal advice by the administration and had sought it from King’s Counsel to ensure the "council remains legal".

The decision to merge the two panels and appoint Cllr Shields as a new cabinet member, on a salary of £26,305, was agreed on Provost Ian Campbell’s casting vote after a 14-14 tie.