By Bill Heaney
There’s an old joke which asks what a million dollars looks like.
The answer is that it is all green and wrinkled.
But that is no excuse for throwing good money in the bin.
Which is what West Dunbartonshire Council-funded Greenlight Recycling did with £1.2 million before it went unceremoniously bust a couple of months ago.
The really sad thing about this is not so much the money, which is important, as the 109 jobs that went down the rubbish chute with it.
This was precious employment for the people who worked for Greenlight since they were mostly people who had found it difficult to get any kind of work previously.
The big question now though is where did all the money go?
How did a modern day rubbish collection service with yards on the Renton Road and Dumbarton Road in Old Kilpatrick, and a facility in Alexandria, manage to run up debts of £1.2 million?
Who was supposed to be keeping their eye on the tranche of public money that was granted to this company right up to and even after it announced it was going into administration?
Whose decision was it to give this company council taxpayers’ money in the first place?
There must surely have been due diligence carried out from time – and someone must have told the Council that this project, which took over from a direct council-provided service, was viable.
So, who was it then? Why was it? And who is to blame for this most recent disastrous decision at West Dunbartonshire Council?
Anyone with a modicum of political nous will tell you that arm’s length companies set up by councils for tax avoidance purposes are a con on the public.
It’s all smoke and mirrors and openings and closures and administrations and liquidations designed by wily politicians to make the gullible public believe they are getting something for less than they might otherwise have to pay.
It’s all nonsense, of course. Just like PFI, our Councils have been forced into it with nowhere else to go to get these monkeys off their back ever since the SNP government came to power in Scotland and froze council tax for ten years.
And the West Dunbartonshire Tory-backed SNP administration were caught with their kilt down around their ankles when the news leaked out one Friday morning that Greenlight had gone bust.
The administration has not yet learned that a secret in West Dunbartonshire is something you tell one person at a time.
Information is power and politicians (and officials too) like being seen to be powerful which is why they let the cat out of the bag even when they’ve sworn blind that your secrets are safe with them.
For them it’s a form of boasting.
What happens now then, and how much will it cost before we get the truth of what went on at Greenlight?
Will that £1.2 million, which has already been dumped, rise up like the mound of filth left behind in Lomond Industrial Estate, to £2 million or most probably more when an inquiry is begun and the bill for the filthy lucre which has gone missing is off-loaded on the taxpayer?
Or, like so much that happens here, will it be swept under the carpet? Will there be yet another cover-up?
So many questions, so much obfuscation, so much incompetence at such an important time in Scotland’s history and the Council refuses to comment to The Democrat about it.
They don’t answer our questions about anything that goes on. Do they have something to hide? I think we should be told about it.
Protestors outside the Loch Lomond Park Authority offices at Carrochan, Balloch.
Flamingoland. Now there’s a name to conjure with, colourful and snappy and tailor-made for marketing.
Balloch and Haldane Community Council. That’s another name in the news, but it doesn’t trip as easily off the tongue as Flamingoland.
The Big F, of course, is run by well-heeled professionals; the Community Council works on a shoestring budget administered by well-meaning amateurs.
In West Dunbartonshire, we call these non-professionals volunteers and recruit them when the Council want something done it considers beneath the (substantial) pay scale of their officials and a drain on the time of elected members.
Councils have never given much credit to community councils for the important work their members do in their spare time.
This is demonstrated by the fact the Council never bothered its ginger to gather up and file away the constitutions of our community councils when they were formed.
They simply took the pro forma or model draft for a community councils in general and stuck it in a filing cabinet for the improbable time when it might be required.
For Balloch and Haldane Community Council that day has arrived – much to the embarrassment of West Dunbartonshire Council.
And it has turned up in tandem with one of the most contentious issues ever to come before the planning committee of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Park Authority.
When recommendation and comments from the Community Council about planning permission for Flamingoland was sought by the Park Authority, they organised a packed public meeting in the White Church in Alexandria.
The outcome was a solid preference, almost to a man and a woman, that the leisure and hotel complex should not be sited on the banks of Loch Lomond in Balloch.
It would be an eyesore and an inconvenience.
Imagine the shock/horror reaction then amongst the many protesters when the Community Council said they approved of Flamingoland and would support their planning application to the Park Authority.
One man, Sid Perrie, pictured right, organised a petition calling for the resignation of the Community Council en bloc.
His reason was simple. The Community Council had failed to reflect the wishes of the community of Balloch and Haldane to reject the Flamingoland proposal.
He looked at the draft constitution and checked what was required to proceed within the rules, collected the proper number of signatures for a petition and took them to the Council to be checked.
The Council dragged its heels of course. They had a problem which, as per usual when something goes wrong, they attempted to fudge and refused to speak about.
The resignation motion submitted came within the terms of the draft constitution and would accommodate the motion by Sid Perrie , but the Community Council said they had drafted their own constitution about 20 years ago – and claimed that it didn’t.
After that, Sid Perrie’s motion, which comes before a meeting of the Community Council on Wednesday morning at 10am, was on the road to nowhere, tied up in red tape.
The recommendation from the Community Council to the Park Authority that the Flamingoland application should be granted would stand.
Mr Perrie kicked up merry hell. He went to see his local councillor, Conservative Sally Page, pictured below, the member for Balloch.
She is of the opinion that it is a monstrous mistake for the Council not to have taken and filed away the constitution of Balloch and Haldane and other community councils for reference should such a situation as this one arise.
She told me that she herself would not be supporting the Flamingoland application because it was clear that the majority of the villagers in Balloch were against it.
Sally Page will now be asking for ALL community council constitutions in West Dunbartonshire to be drawn up properly and made available on request to members of the public. They should also be posted on the Council website.
Meanwhile, Cllr Page and her Conservative colleague Brian Walker, whose votes prop up the SNP administration and keep them in power, have to attend an important housing committee meeting, which is running at the same time as the Community Council meeting on Wednesday morning (November 7). No surprise there then.
If this constitutional matter is not put right, then there is a very real possibility that the Unionist Tories may no longer support the Nationalist SNP, and West Dunbartonshire Council could find itself thrown into chaos. More chaos.