Electorate fed up with consultations that fail to reflect their wishes

By Bill Heaney

What are our councillors for? At first they were supposed to be intelligent, well-disposed and caring people who had the good of the community at heart.

It was the intention of governments past that the candidates for office in local areas should know the layout of the land and the issues with which they were concerned.

They would be popular, approachable people with their ear to the ground and would know what people wanted and didn’t want for the area – and the people – they represented.

Given their track record with consultations and the criticism of them generally, and in the council chamber, it is surprising therefore that West Dunbartonshire Council are embarking on yet another one.

And this begs the question: Will anyone believe what the council comes up with? And will it be worth the money the Council are about to squander on it?

Given that members of the council – and the 5,000 staff, of course – are going about with their eyes and ears open, one would think they would be able to answer the following:

Are there things about public services you would like done better?

 Do you think you and others in your community could help to improve public services if your ideas were listened to? 

Are there buildings in your community you would like to make better use of? 

Do you feel you need more information and support to take part? 

The official message from the Council is this:

Over the next month we will be inviting you to join a conversation to share your thoughts and your ideas on what needs to be done to make sure that people living locally can improve their understanding of how they could use the Community Empowerment Act. 

The Community Empowerment Act is designed to make it easier for communities to influence how local services are delivered and how to make direct use of resources, like buildings, which Councils and other agencies own. 

West Dunbartonshire Council (WDC) is developing a Community Empowerment Strategy and Action Plan. It will set out the key things that need to be done in communities and by local services to ensure that rights and duties in the Community Empowerment Act (2015) can be used across West Dunbartonshire to make things better for communities.

It comes with an invitation to attend a list of events which, of course, involves the complicated business of filling out a form:


consultation meetings

If you do not have a computer – or if you cannot get to the Library when you can find one that is open, of course – or you haven’t a clue how to use one never mind fill out a form on one then despair, despair utterly.

There is no specified route to anywhere else to participate in this monkey business.

And, anyway, computer or no computer or the inability to use one, you are likely to be far too busy seeking help on other matters such as making application for Universal Credit. On a computer.

Predictably, there is one guy who doesn’t like what is happening.

Community activist Drew MacEoghainn has suggested on social media that if the Council really want to listen to what local people think they need from them, then they should ditch what he calls “the draconian social media policy that sees your members of staff being disciplined for trying to point out areas where you could improve”.

If they don’t want to do this, then Drew suggests the Council should withdraw their consultation plans since the most likely outcome is that they will listen only to the suggestions they like – not necessarily the ones the public like or want.

And that the whole consultation process – as it has proved to be this year with all those the Council budget cuts, which the First Minister said did not need to be imposed and the SNP council leader said did – is a complete waste of time.

Another outspoken member of the electorate, Richard O’Malley, says the Council should know already what people want and don’t want.

Richard has written this in response to the Council’s appeal for assistance from the electorate: “Surely the meeting at Alexandria CE Centre, which was bursting at the seams and attended at top table by Councillor Jonathan McColl, the council leader; David McBride, the Labour and the Community party leader; [Community Party councillor] Jim Bollan; Councillors Karen Conaghan [Education convener] and Caroline McAllister [deputy leader of the council] which, I may add, was a very good meeting” was enough?

Cllrs McColl, Conaghan, Bollan, McBride and McAllister.

He added: “Why, oh why do we need these extra consultations? The people who have the power to make these decisions attended this meeting and heard loud and clear from the floor what is needed and required within our communities.

“So please make a decision and keep these [community] centres open for the good of our areas and for the people who live and stay here.

“If any more centres are closed, the young people of our communities will have nothing.

“We owe it to them to do all we can to keep these facilities open. Enough is Enough.”

Gillian Yule said it would be great if things could just be “done”, let alone “done better”.

Eddie Cusick from Clydebank asked why are there no evening meetings in the Clydebank area on the schedule – “and are you following the National Standards for Community Engagement?”

Alison White complained the consultations meetings would be held “basically when everyone is at work”.

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