NOTEBOOK by Bill Heaney

This is not a real report of the Health and Social Care Partnership committee meeting in West Dunbartonshire Council’s newly refurbished offices in the Burgh Hall.

That would be impossible.

When you want to hear what is going on there you have to rely on the committee papers – or be able to lip read.

And when you can’t see the people who are talking, then the game’s a bogey. Pen down, notebook closed.

Some of the people taking part had those wee name plates with their names and designations on them sitting in front of them.  Others didn’t bother.

And, anyway, 20/20 vision would have been required to read them.

They were further away than those number plates on the wall they use to check for your eyesight before you sit your driving test.

I was there to represent you, the public, dear reader, but there was fat chance of that given the facilities. Should have gone to Specsavers.

There is no table where reporters can take notes and that chair with the desk the lean upon disc the size of a dinner plate, which is broken, and which I mentioned here last week, is still there. Still broken.

Nothing appears to have been done about the sound system, which is chronic. They’ll have to issue ear trumpets all round as we go in the door.

Many of those members and officials who do use the microphones, don’t know how to do it properly.

No one has told them, it seems, that you have to switch them on and speak into them so that others in the room can hear you.

Now there’s an opportunity for an away day’s “training” up Loch Lomondside. Could be a nice lunch in that one. And some “team building”.

However, since there were no others in the room where the very expensive ceiling seems to let the sound out instead of keeping it in devours the squeaks, grunts and mumbles from down below.

Arts and Culture convener Denis Agnew, Bailie Denis Agnew even, was the worst offender.  He didn’t even switch his microphone on when he was speaking.

Perhaps he thinks he is too important for that? When Denis speaks the world should stop to listen.

Had this meeting been an opera or a play and there was no sight nor sound from the participants, then I fear the bold Denis would have been amongst the first to have a word with the management for his money back.

The meeting then proceeded to a jumble of figures and incoherent words which came in the way of reports from Julie Slavin, chief financial officer; Beth Culshaw, chief officer, health and social care partnership; Wendy Jack, interim head of planning and health improvement; Julie Lusk, head of mental health, addictions and learning disability, and Jo Gibson, head of health and community care.

Cllr Marie McNair was in the chair. She has more titles than the Countess of Dumbarton and Sussex, but she really needs to speak up.

And then there is the mysterious Mr Allan MacLeod, who is described as vice-chair but appears never to have been elected by anyone and about whom I have no information – and can’t get any.

I have asked for that, of course, but the Council Communications Department, in its silliness, will not provide it, so who he is I cannot tell you.

Anyway, the meeting got off to a bad start once the mince pies and coffee had been cleared up and put away.

Strange that since I was told last week there was no place I could get a cup of coffee, never mind a Christmas pie, during the break (the meetings can last for hours on end here) but the members and officials must have their own wee stash.

They kept appearing from behind an unmarked door with cups of steaming liquid.

Last week, when I ventured in there, a pin striped gentleman almost had two fits and a bad turn.  Why do I get the feeling the Fourth Estate is persona non grata here?

What have I ever done to them? My council tax is fully paid up (I have never missed a payment in my life).

HL Mencken said the press should treat politicians the way dogs treat lamp posts, but I have never been like that.

I am usually quiet and self effacing (I’m told) although I did blot my escutcheon last week when I told one of them who said it wasn’t appropriate for me to speak with the Provost to bugger off.

And I am not a terrorist. Last time I saw one of them, he was shooting at me in a side-street in Belfast.

I am not allowed to speak either to any of the chief officials since I first of all have to approach their gate-keepers, who are in the Communications Department.

If I am ever to get permission – or even ask a question – of any chief officials, I have to speak to the Communications Department who have instructions not to speak to me.  Is it any wonder then that I am fed up with these people?

Someone should inform them that in the great scheme of things they don’t come up very high in the league table of important persons.

They are forever telling the public that they have no money to spare, not a brown penny, and that they have to save paper. Now that rips my knitting.

At least that was their line last week when they declined to supply my press colleagues with pre-budget report papers.

If they dropped all their fancy job titles then reports would be far shorter and would not take up half the space or use all the paper they do at the moment.

And, another thing, I have just seen a glossy magazine the Council produces.

It’s called FOCUS, it’s mince and full of big pictures. The words you can’t see because the type is too small and it’s printed white on yellow which anyone who has ever produced a publication must know is almost impossible to read.

Here is my advice to the officials and, like The Democrat, it is FREE and for nothing.  Fix the sound system in order that the public can hear what’s going on in the “chamber”.

And seat the press and public where they can hear what’s being said  and see the faces  of the participants at the meeting and read the nameplates of everyone making and assisting with the decisions that are made in our name.  Our name, not their name.

Now that should not be difficult for our £100,000 a year chief officials who appear to be kept wrapped in cotton wool.

LangcraigsIt should not be too expensive either when you consider that the Council were stupidly done out of £250,000 by the people who bought Langcraigs home from them in a cut price deal.

We were told at the time the price was dropped because the new owners would move in within a year and save the council money on insurance and security.  Well, I went to Langcraigs to have a look last night. It is still boarded up and empty. Makes me wonder who is paying for the insurance and security. I would ask but the Council refuse to take questions. I have leper status there.

Now, there was something at the meeting about integration of councils and health and social care partnerships which seemed to be in place but still wasn’t working, but the information on that came wrapped in the usual gobbledeygook.

I intend to go to a council meeting next week again.

If I don’t manage to get there though, I wish everyone in the Council a Happy Christmas. Bah, humbug, however, and don’t keep me a mince pie.

Please ask Santa Claus to get us reporters a press table to lean on and a chair to sit on  (my request is modest and would cost nothing) next time we are there representing the electorate.

The electorate are the ones who came up with the £15.4 million (and counting) for the Burgh Hall refurbishment after all. It’s time they gave us our place and told us what it really cost.


  1. Very much take your point about how distant the public is from the Cllrs & Officials. After the first meeting held in the new building, I suggested the layout should be changed with the public sitting in the large unoccupied space to the right of where the Chair of the Council is located. This suggestion was rejected. It is almost as if the building has been designed to make sure the public can’t hear or see those they elected?

  2. They should really be in the Masonic Hall across the road. However, I think the Masons are much more charitable when it comes to dealing with the public. And they too have their secrets, of course.

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