Council tax and rents up – but women have little or nothing to say …
Councillors David McBride, Martin Rooney and Jonathan McColl.
By Bill Heaney
Voters? Who needs them? The media, who needs them either? Cllr Jonathan McColl, the leader of West Dunbartonshire Council, appears to be someone who falls into that category.
Colleagues? What are they for? The council boss man appears to think he can carry SNP policy off on his own.
Hardly anyone else gets a look in when important matters such as the Council’s annual budget or the setting of Council Tax are being discussed.
They all defer to Jonathan. When it comes to less important matters, the women occasionally get a look-in.
In other circumstances, especially when equality is a word used rightly and often in politics these days, it would be quite an achievement, a wrong one, of course, to keep women quiet.
But in the SNP group, their contributions are brief and appear to be well scripted and no doubt approved by Jonathan.
Such as this one from his deputy, Cllr Caroline McAllister, left, whose probing question on graft and corruption, the big issue of the day, amounted unbelievably to this: “How many whistle-blowers were there?”
This had been a “very serious” issue in the Council for the past FOUR years.
And that was it. But we have become used to Caroline reading out her contributions, including her opening remarks at a domestic abuse conference – “Good morning everyone.”
Only a fortnight ago, filling in for the great leader, she made a hand-wringing contribution about the council being so skint that a pay award to its hard-pressed workers might see the authority bankrupt.
On Thursday, she sat on her hands and remained silent as Jonathan made nonsense of this by announcing that cuts amounting to £millions had been conveniently parked.
And in a quite remarkable move, scrapped the SNP’s promised public consultation on cuts, stating they would not now be necessary.
The Council had been looking down the barrel of more than £4 million in potential cuts despite receiving a much-argued-about tranche of extra cash from the Scottish Government.
It emerged that despite this sleight of hand from the SNP, the Council Tax will be going up by three per cent when the full budget is announced on March 27.
This will be accompanied by a two per cent increase in council house rents across West Dunbartonshire, one of the poorest and most deprived areas of Scotland.
But how could this happen? Hold your horses, dear reader. It’s a simple matter of changing the word “cuts” to “management adjustments”.
In West Dunbartonshire therefore there will be no cuts, just management adjustments.
Nor will there either be any credible explanation where the new money will come from, just an assurance that £2.4m in so-called management adjustments will still go ahead.
Complicated isn’t it?
Labour proposed their own version of spending cuts and management adjustments, offering to bridge a £6.412m budget gap by using up the Vale of Leven fire insurance fund, financial reserves and selling land.
There was surprisingly no mention of the family silver and no sign of blue lights or sound of sirens when Labour felt it necessary to call on the Fire Brigade insurance fund, although this budget most definitely demands emergency measures.
Clichés and catch phrases are the in thing in local government at the moment, not to mention the fact that most contributions are inaudible and impenetrable.
Labour’s Martin Rooney declined to help me to help you to understand the complexities involved in the tax setting process.
He wouldn’t give me a copy of his contribution, which was rejected out of hand anyway.
Alas poor Jonathan McColl, just when it seemed he might get away with some fancy political footwork, Labour members put the metaphorical boot into him.
He had promised at the last meeting that he would have top level talks (maybe it was high level discussions) with people at the very top of the government tree.
This was aimed at persuading his SNP colleagues at Holyrood to give West Dunbartonshire a bigger slice of money cake.
Since no one in their right mind could possibly oppose this, councillors of all parties and none gave him to go-ahead.
But Jonathan bungled it. He dropped the ball.
Instead of going through the proper channels for such meetings, he decided to have talks with the Finance Minister Derek Mackay, right, in the comfort of the lounge of the Millennium Hotel in George Square.
And again to raise the matter of government money with Mr Mackay at the SNP’s Christmas party in Stirling in December.
To make any meeting with the Scottish government official, government officials are required to be present.
Labour’s David McBride told Cllr McColl that he couldn’t just go out for a pint with one of his pals and then claim that it was official.
Can I just ask here if these meetings were not official and can never be deemed official who paid Cllr McColl’s expenses to attend them?
Did the council taxpayers of West Dunbartonshire pay for his trip to Stirling for the SNPs Christmas party?
Cllr McColl claimed: “As a result of those meetings, the council got an extra £1.57m. It might be inconceivable for the Labour party, but that’s just the way it is.”
And he lambasted Labour stating that “unlike the former council leader [Labour’s Martin Rooney] he didn’t need his hand held by council officers.
Cllrs Denis Agnew, Jim Bollan, Sally Page and Brian Walker.
Labour councillor Douglas McAllister said: “The management adjustments resulted in the closure of nursery classes across West Dunbartonshire. There is no requirement to make them.
“I’m disappointed that we are supposed to accept private discussions.
“Phone calls to his pals are not official government meetings. Someone is not telling the truth.”
SNP councillor Ian Dickson said: “I think Cllr McBride is just upset about us getting more money. I will take no lessons from the Labour group. They’re just draining every penny left and putting off [the budget gap] to next year.”
The SNP won the roll call vote with Bailie Denis Agnew supporting them and Community Party councillor Jim Bollan giving his support to Labour’s failed motion.
The lone Conservative, Cllr Sally Page, abstained while her Tory colleague, Brian Walker, who is supposed to represent the Dumbarton Ward, failed to turn up for the meeting at all.