Loch Lomond junket could lead to leader’s resignation
Lovely Loch Lomond, where council officials had a day out at the taxpayers’ expense. Picture by Bill Heaney
Dearie me, life didn’t look as if it could get any worse for Councillor Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP group on West Dunbartonshire Council. But it has – with a vengeance.
And on the eve of a full council meeting at Garshake (Thursday 2pm) when the Labour opposition, if they have the courage, will move a vote of no confidence in him.
Just when Cllr McColl thought he saw a chink of light at the end of a very dark tunnel, darkness has descended on him yet again.
The door of the political prison cell he has talked himself into has now clanged shut behind him.
The light had come on briefly for Jonathan in Edinburgh last Friday when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon presented him with £240,000.
The “get out of jail” money from the Scottish Government was cash which had been earmarked for grants for school uniforms, but it had already been included in the budget.
It would go one third of the way to allow the SNP in West Dunbartonshire to do a U-turn on his group’s decision to make workers redundant and stop cutting grass and planting flowers in our parks, open spaces and cemeteries.
Then, on Tuesday, Jonathan was presented with a cutting from the Clydebank Post. An exclusive revelation by reporter Tristan Stewart-Robertson was headlined: “Day out on Loch costs taxpayers. Council ‘regret’ over trip by social workers.”
I could almost hear the loud cry of anguish – and possibly a few expletives – coming from the council leader’s office.
Jonathan McColl had made yet another blunder which would see him crucified by the press and public.
The first had been to tangle with the trade unions, withdrawing time and money from conveners who represent their members during working hours.
The second was to agree with his finance convener, Councillor Ian Dickson, to include the grass and flowers debacle in the long list of cuts in the council’s annual budget.
This latest, remarkably stupid folly must surely fall into the “three strikes and you are out” category?
It’s what the tabloids would call a junket, even though a council spokesperson says no councillors took part in it.
She told me: “We regret this incident took place. This was arranged with the best of intentions as part of a team building exercise but it is accepted that this is not an appropriate use of resources. Steps have been taken to ensure there is no repeat.”
Who did take part then? It is quite difficult to understand why a group of employees from the justice section of the Health and Social Care Partnership, involving a speedboat and jolly on the Bonnie Banks costing £2, 250, was undertaken at this time of austerity.
Did no one know the council was under fire in the local press and social media for its austerity budget? That libraries were closing and music lessons threatened?
In the greater scheme of things, £2,250 is not a lot of money and most probably can be signed off by a senior official, but it could have amply filled a few empty, turfed over beds with flowers at Levengrove or Dalmuir, Christie Park or Balloch.
It is a significant amount though when you look at what greenspace employees are earning to keep body and soul together at a time of austerity cuts and grocery and petrol price rises.
Of course, this might not have crossed the mind of a senior official in West Dunbartonshire on a salary of more than £100,000 a year.
Maybe he doesn’t live in the deprived area in which he works in and has no interest in what’s being reported in the local media?
Maybe he is the one who jumps in his large car of an evening and heads off to the leafy suburbs of Bearsden and Milngavie or Helensburgh, where the grass in the parks is neatly trimmed and floral displays abound in them?
But Councillors Jonathan McColl, Ian Dickson and Iain McLaren (pictured above) – described in this column recently as three wise monkeys, although now that has changed to The Three Junketeers – should know the score.
They might not have gone on the trip but it happened under their nose and on their watch when they were (supposed to be) in charge.
They told us when they went up for election that they were better at looking after our money than the candidates standing against them.
That they and other major players, such as Karen Conaghan, who chairs the education committee, were well qualified to make our three major towns great again.
Well, from where I am sitting in central Dumbarton, they are not listening to the public and they are certainly no better than their predecessors, whose own parties have considerable form for junketing in the past.
As for the Health and Social Care Partnership, a relative new arm’s length, apparently undemocratic organisation attached to the council.
They haven’t made any headlines recently apart from the fact that they too have waded into to our health and social work services with a very sharp scalpel and made huge cuts.
They have a chairperson who believes austerity is the way to expansion.