Why the public were refused entry to the first meeting in the new Burgh Hall
The new Burgh Hall and Our Lady and St Patrick’s High School.
By Bill Heaney
The new Burgh Hall in Dumbarton and the replacement of Our Lady and St Patrick’s High School in Bellsmyre are two of the biggest projects West Dunbartonshire Council has undertaken in recent times.
There are problems with both of them. They started under a Labour administration which squandered more than £1 million on an ill-conceived plan to put the school down at Posties Park before opting for Bellsmyre on the rebound.
Unfortunately, neither the school nor the hall is fit for purpose.
Some of the classrooms at the new OLSP aren’t big enough to accommodate the number of students who require to be taught in them.
And in the Burgh Hall, there are not enough seats in the public gallery for the number of people who want to attend council meetings.
Having been a victim of over-crowding at the old County Buildings in Garshake, where it was standing room only for some at a meeting of the education services committee, the seat I was pressed into didn’t give me enough space to take notes.
Of elbow room there was absolutely none, and the room itself was unventilated and uncomfortably warm.
The whole thing could have been solved if the council had switched the meeting to the chamber, where there was lots of room, and nothing was happening.
The windows were shut on a roasting hot day.
But the officials in charge obviously believe that cattle truck conditions are good enough for the public – and the press.
As a press bench, the public gallery in that committee room was not fit for purpose.
I noticed at the last council meeting I attended in Clydebank Town Hall that the public were not allowed to share the same pristine, newly-painted staircase as the members and officials.
They had to go by a different route to take them up to the council chamber where they were crammed into an overcrowded public gallery.
Once again newspaper reporters were left without a table to lean on and take notes.
The stairway by which I left the chamber is for members of the public. Unlike the one exclusively allocated for the councillors and officials, it had not been decorated recently.
It gives the impression there is an opinion amongst the inflated egos around the place that it’s good enough for us.
I am of the opinion that an 18-seat gallery at the Burgh Hall is totally inadequate.
And the fact that members of the public were turned away from the meeting and could not witness what was being done in their name was disgraceful.
This incident demonstrates once again the contempt some of our elected representatives and officials have for the public, not to mention the lack of vision amongst them.
One would have thought that the new Burgh Hall might have been used to show students in modern studies or citizenship classes what local government was all about.
Only trouble is that the public gallery would not be large enough to accommodate a classroom of pupils.
Much has been made in the recent, outdated auditors’ report of the council’s relationship with the community it serves.
Council leader Jonathan McColl crowed about it – “This report marks a significant milestone for West Dunbartonshire Council.
“Over the last 11 years, the Council has been on a journey of improvement, and it’s really pleasing that the Accounts Commission has recognised the progress which has been made both in improving the services we deliver for our residents, and also in engaging with our communities and planning for the future.
“We have clear plans in place for the next four years and this is reflected in our strategic plan. We are committed to continuing to improve and reflecting the needs, wishes and aspiration of our residents as we move forward.”
They could start by fulfilling their aspirations of the public for a seat in the Burgh Hall or an extra desk or two in Our Lady and St Patrick’s.
But listen, worry not. The council have decided to spend money on making live broadcasts of their meetings, which everyone will be able to tune into without leaving the house.
It’s appalling to think that this cast of B Movie actors costs the council taxpayers a cool £460,000 a year in allowances and expenses.
I am tempted to mention X certificates and House of Horror movies here, but I won’t on this occasion.
Ah, there you go, I have done it again. Upsetting a few politicians and stuffy officials seems to be my metier.
I cannot wait for the first council picture show starring the great leader, Councillor Jonathan McColl, pictured left, who, with his beard and tartan shirts, conjures up memories of Gabby Hayes in those old cowboy movies in the Rialto and the Strand. Certainly, some of his colleagues are, as the Texas Rangers might have it, all hat and no cattle. There’s no truth in the rumour that the premiere will be a local authority version of How Green is My Valley in West Dunbartonshire.