Bill Heaney writes …
A ‘Hands off our Community Centres’ meeting will take place in Alexandria Community Centre on Monday, October 1. It has been organised by West Dunbartonshire Joint Trade Unions. My columnist colleague, Elspeth Crocket, drew attention to the threat to close or reduce hours at some local centres in The Democrat two weeks ago. The so-called council “consultation” about this took place in July when everyone was away on holiday. Remember where you read it first.
Debt is a four-letter word and West Dunbartonshire Council is up to its eyes in it. A new report says the Council’s debt rose by £46 million in a single year. Yes, that’s an astonishing £46 million.
Despite their protestations, decisions by the old Labour administration led to long-term liabilities for Public Private Partnership (PPP) finance contracts that will run and run, wait for it, for the next 20-odd years until the year 2038/39. Yes, folks, you read that correctly, that is £340 million a year for 20 years. You do the Math. That’s some debt to saddle our children with, is it not?
These PPPs are the type of contracts Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonald told his party conference in Liverpool this week would be abolished under any new Labour government. Touch of the stable door and horses bolting there then?
Over the remaining life of these contracts, which include the money for three new schools, the council expects to pay £340 MILLION in annual repayment and service costs.
The schools in question include the new OLSP secondary in Bellsmyre, which replaces the currently being demolished old school in Cardross Road, which critics have stated was still fit for purpose. They are convinced it could have remained in use for another ten years at least.
The splendid new Burgh Hall in Church Street – we have no figures yet on how much was overspent on the projected £16 million we were told it was going to cost – is not fit for purpose.
Nor do we know (and we are not allowed to ask) if it was bought with one of the above rip-off PPP-type loans.
Apart from accommodating highly-paid council staff in the corridors of power, the new premises’ prime purpose is to hold meetings that are open to the public.
To be done properly, the administration of West Dunbartonshire Council, like justice, has to be done and be seen to be done.
And in order to witness fully what is happening in the name of democracy, one also has to be able to HEAR what is going on.
Doughty community campaigner, Rose Harvie, tells us that is well night impossible – “Having a keen interest in several items on the agenda (of the planning committee) and keen to see if the new offices were equipped with better acoustic and PA facilities than the Garshake offices, I sat in the public gallery throughout the meeting. Despite a request from the convener of the planning committee, several of the councillors declined to use their microphones”.
Some would say there’s no wonder they would prefer not to be heard, but the public who attend council meetings expect better.
And, as Rose, pictured left, writes, “local government affects local people and should be transparent and clear, not only in council papers, but in the discussions, votes and decisions”
Two months ago, there was not enough room in the Burgh Hall to accommodate the public who wanted to get in to the monthly meeting.
Now, if you do get in, you can’t hear what’s happening in front of your eyes. You couldn’t make it up, not even for £16 million you couldn’t.
And finally, I note that Dumbarton Cemetery has been re-named by one local paper as “Bellsmyre Cemetery”. Perhaps the ground there has shifted? That must have been pretty scary for anyone who witnessed the old graveyard moving from the bottom of Garshake over the wall into Bellsmyre.
- This initial version of this column carried the by-line Richard Ponsonby, which was a nom de plume. On reflection, however, we decided not to do that – Editor.