Dumbarton is doomed for a decade

The Burgh Hall, Councillor McColl and CEO Joyce White.

By Bill Heaney

I may be a grizzled and grumpy veteran of newspaper reporting and commenting on government, local, national and European, but it would take even me a while to come up with anything so stupid as West Dunbartonshire Council’s ten-year financial projection.

This arrives at a time when the world’s leading economists would be pushed to tell you what is happening in the next ten minutes, never mind the next ten years.

The report which will go before the full council today predicts that the council will have to make £54 million in cuts over the next decade.

And that to save these projected millions, the council could start by paying off 45 employees, starting soon..

This indicates that, even with Nicola Sturgeon in the First Minister’s office, these shroud wavers expect things to get worse in regard to council finances.  And like Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army, we are all doomed.

I would like to know if our local tally men have taken account the effect of the Brexit Bounce or the result of the Independence referendum and what impact they will have on West Dunbartonshire Council’s budget between now and 2029.

Perhaps all will be revealed at the Council’s monthly meeting in the new Burgh Hall in Church Street today as our councillors plough their way through the facts and figures.

Since the guesstimates and estimates amount to nothing more than waffle, speculation and obfuscation, I would suggest that rather than waste valuable time and money on this, the the members note the report and move on to the next item on the agenda.

What’s the point of trawling through a programme of so-called management adjustments when in truth the bosses must know – we live in eternal hope – that neither they nor even the council itself will be here in ten years’ time.

Like Strathclyde Regional Council, Dumbarton Town Council, Dumbarton District Council, Clydebank Town Council, Vale of Leven District Council, Helensburgh Town Council, Cove and Kilcreggan Town Council and the Vale of Leven District Council, they will just be a memory.

Meanwhile, a draft funding figure from the Scottish Government won’t be available until December with details of the savings required to appease Nicola Sturgeon and the rest of the SNP’s Holyrood hierarchy.

The funny money figures in the 10-year projection are that by 2028/29, the council are likely to need to make £54 million in savings.

The worst case projection would see a need for a staggering £97 million in cuts.

With a total budget of £214 million, these “management adjustments” are estimated to be able to save the Council £2.3 million – but even then they’ll need to cut another £2m to balance the books.

The figures all assume council tax will continue to rise by 3 per cent each year going forward.

In the unlikely event of that happening, Council leader Jonathan McColl and Chief Executive Joyce White are invited to do a Strictly on it and come up and dance on my grave at Dumbarton Cemetery.

Other nonsense in this report includes information you could obtain for the price of a morning newspaper instead of commissioning an expensive report with Mystic Meg  tendencies and prices to match.

Tell me who doesn’t know that West Dunbartonshire is facing issues ranging from depopulation and ageing residents to the unknown impact of Brexit in 2019.

Except that those of us who see unprecedented house building activity hae their doots about the depopulation projection.

The report authors continue on to outdo Scrooge with their “management adjustments,” which would bring a tear to a glass eye.

One item that made me smile, however, amongst the “restructuring, reduction and rationalisation across multiple departments” was this one:

“Some of the savings are small, such as ending providing tea, coffee and milk to councillors, saving just £2,000.”

That almost caused me to spill my coffee all over my keyboard.

It is said that £300,000 would be saved on “resources service restructures”, cutting 18 full-time jobs and that work would be managed in-house instead of employing outside contractors, such as asbestos surveys or legionella risk assessments.

Another £10,000 would be cut by ending funding for the Great Scottish Swim.

Well, when you are in at the deep end, why not scrap a group event which gave a great deal of pleasure to the public who turned up in their droves for it?

Nae mer perties for you, my lad.

The budget for internships would be reduced by £15,000 and the homelessness service would be “redesigned” to save £25,000.

How do you redesign a cardboard box and a blanket?

That internship cut should go down well with the school leavers and university graduates whose chance of getting some work experience in their own backyard will be diminished.

Taking £25,000 out of the budget for helping homeless people begs the question as to how low you are prepared to stoop to save a few bob.

The largest council cut of all is for £433,000 but requires no employees being shown the door on to Church Street.

Council papers described it as “increased capitalisation of staff costs across asset management following a review of time spent to manage the significant capital investment”.

One of my young journalistic colleagues has complained that this sentence appears “without explanation in English, of what that means”.

He could be in serious trouble with the powers that be and end up having his journalistic credentials examined and possibly even find himself boycotted by the SNP-Tory-Independent alliance which considers it is doing such a good job of running our council.

Or he may find himself going through the front doors of the Burgh Hall for today’s meeting and leaving from the back door in the rear of a council van.

It is no surprise then that this long-term financial strategy has been signed off by chief executive Joyce White and council leader Jonathan McColl.

It states: “Longer-term projections have been made to 2028/29 and highlight, based on a range of assumptions, a range of funding gaps to 2028/29 between £35.626m and £96.944m, based on a best and worst case scenario – with the likely position being somewhere in between, currently valued at £54.270m.”

The first rule of journalism but not local government it seems is never to assume anything.

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