No action taken about charity money missing from parent group funds at troubled Bonhill school

The Council offices in Church Street where information about a troubled primary school was kept under wraps. Pictures by Bill Heaney

The Health and Social Care Partnership now operating in West Dunbartonshire appears to be the local Council by another name.

There is some confusion in the public’s mind however as to whether the HSCP, guided by its Chief Officer Beth Culshaw, is part of the health board or the local authority.

Since Ms Culshaw uses a health board e mail address in the annual report of the council’s Director of Social Work, ordinary mortals will most likely assume that she is an employee of Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board.

One of the first rules of journalism, however, is that you should never assume anything. Check everything lest ye be cast into the dungeon of the Stab in the Dark School of Journalism.

Is the HSCP a quango? And is its chairperson a councillor or someone who has never stood for office?

Since I am barred from asking questions through the Council media department, and I can’t clarify anything quickly unless I am prepared to stand in a queue (or hang around on the telephone) for the public inquiry desk, I can’t give you a definitive answer to the question above.

There is a touch of what Sheriff Lionel Daiches once called “bureaucratic bumbledom” about this situation, more than a hint of cover-up and injustice.

It seems daft to have a media person such as I, having to ask questions at the public desk when I could cut out the middle man/woman and save the Council money.

I am not either, permitted to approach council officials direct since Chief Executive Joyce White made that clear when I contacted her some time ago.

Her instructions to me were to use the media department, which I now can’t use.

Is it not scandalous in the 21st century that senior figures in local government have to have a “gatekeeper” in the shape of a media officer before they talk to a journalist?

Is it me they don’t trust – or is it themselves?

I can understand politicians being reluctant to deal with the media since they have so much to hide.

But not officials, who have to have qualifications and experience before they are appointed to their posts which carry such high salaries.

You would think they would be able to answer a straight question such as:

What is the HSCP? Who runs it and who funds it and to whom do its officers answer?

I think we should be told.

I am a journalist in good standing with the NUJ, of which I am a Life Member, and the Society of Editors, of whom I am an Editor Emeritus.

And, like other journalists, I should be given answers to the many other questions and requests for clarification that arise while reporting local government affairs.

Most people would agree that is entirely reasonable in a democracy.

The reason why this rift arose is because I persisted in asking questions on behalf of The Democrat about the resignation of the head teacher at Bonhill Primary School.

It was obvious from the outset that there was more to it than met the eye.

The fact that the Council were reluctant to speak about it was an indication that there was something embarrassing about it.

And there was, something even more embarrassing than the fact that the head teacher and some parents had fallen out over a car parking issue.

Money was missing from the funds of a group who met at the school and there was concern in the community about it.

The police had been called in to investigate but had told the organisers (and the Council) that it was a matter for the Scottish Charity Regulator.

It was a can of worms about which we would have asked the Council and the police that if they have a report of money going missing in suspicious circumstances, why is it not being investigated?

I am certain that if money for a charity in any place of work went missing then there would be an obligation on the authorities to investigate.

Maybe it was the fact that the charity whose money it was had not long before been recognised by royalty in Edinburgh?

Possibly it was something else?

Whatever it was, the public on whose premises the charity met, which was the school, deserved an explanation, especially when the wider circumstances were taken into consideration?

That might have resulted in a red face or two in the Council offices about how the whole matter had been dealt with.

Cover-ups are not acceptable in public affairs, especially when they come hard on the heels of promises from politicians that the public should expect full and frank openness and transparency from the Council in relation to all that it does in the public’s name.

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