BUDGET NOTEBOOK

Figures gathered now and public consultations will be irrelevant

Trade unions campaigning against cuts in West Dunbartonshire budget.

By Bill Heaney

West Dunbartonshire Council is struggling to come up with a budget that makes sense.

Not just to them, but to the whole 95,000 souls who live here in one of the most deprived areas of Scotland.

The Democrat warned the SNP-run Council last month that they would be wasting their time and our money searching for a set of figures that were anywhere near accurate.

But, as Parkinson’s Law states, work expands to meet the time allocated to it.  Or the Devil makes work for idle hands.

The officials just got on with it since, conveniently, it took their minds off how they would deal with the corruption allegations made against the Council by a whistle-blower.

That was about not following laid down policy and practices when it came to the awarding of contracts – some of them lucrative – and senior officials allegedly taking bungs and hospitality from contractors.

In a report to the full Council, which meets on Thursday at 2 pm, our unelected local finance wizards have come up with a set of figures that will almost certainly be totally irrelevant by their own Budget Day.

That is unless, of course, the Council have recruited Mystic Meg or Mystic Mick – equality matters here – in the meantime.

We are prepared to believe that council officials and elected members do not have crystal balls.

West Dunbartonshire’s Budget Day has been set for March 27 – two days before the deadline for the UK government to settle its differences with Europe for Brexit. Deal or No Deal?

When that excrement finally hits the Expelair, no one from Chief Executive Joyce White and Council leader Jonathan McColl down will have a clue about how much money will be made available to them by the UK or Scottish governments to provide local government services here.

They have admitted in their report that they relied heavily on assumptions in its preparation.  The first rule of journalism is that one should never assume anything.  Perhaps local government should take a leaf out of our book.

There are two things that strike me about the preparation and application of this austerity budget, which will inevitably bring even more cuts in services than last year – and a five per cent hike in council tax.

First is the enthusiastic way Cllr McColl and his SNP colleagues, backed by the two Tories (unbelievably elected in Dumbarton Central and Balloch’s Lomond Ward) are going about this cuts business.

They accept no questions and brook no disagreement about the way they are handling this business.

They have the arrogant air about them of hangmen at the Tyburn Tree in London or the masked executioners operating the guillotine during the French Revolution.

They are determined in their mission to impose even more debt and misery in an area where people have already suffered too much deprivation, unemployment, food banks and service cuts.

Loch Lomond Park Authority logo 2And where they are about to have planning projects such as Flamingo Land in Balloch foisted upon them by Scottish Enterprise with the acquiescence of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Park Authority.

We have too much obfuscation, a lack of openness and transparency and too many  many mediocre, inarticulate and weak politicians who are tramping on the fragile flower of democracy and too afraid to speak out on behalf of the people who voted them into office.

As ever, there is a back story to all this.

The sleekit element of this, and much that is underhand which is done in our name here, according to Community Party councillor Jim Bollan, is that the Council has an agenda to make 350 workers redundant.

We have been unable to confirm this since West Dunbartonshire Council refuse to speak to The Democrat.

It looks however that things are going to get worse before they get better.

The teachers’ pay rise is coming down the line with the inevitable additional consequences of finding the money for the pensions that will go with that.

Complexity is heaped upon complexity and then there is this in the pre-budget report  – “the assumptions used in generating the gap at December 2018 were that all such costs would be funded, therefore the non-funding of the of the reduction [in the teachers’ pay rise] will increase the funding gap by £0.767 million; however, the advice provided by the Scottish Government regarding the cost calculation changing to 21 per cent reduces this by £0.278 – resulting in a net increase of £0.489 million”.

Explain these impenetrable prose to the man in the bunnet on the Haldane bus or the working woman on the train to Renton.

Now answer me this: Is that clear?  Send your answers in an e mail to heaneymedia@btinternet.com

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