Economical with the truth Council leader McColl is not fit for purpose
By Bill Heaney
West Dunbartonshire Council leader Jonathan McColl should resign. Not just as the SNP council leader, but as a councillor or representative at any level on a public authority.
The electorate are used to politicians being economical with the truth. They are familiar with them making bad decisions and used to them failing to keep promises and doing U-turns on policy decisions. But not all of them at once.
Councillor Jonathan McColl, pictured left, is not fit for purpose. He is an autocrat who doesn’t know the meaning of collegiality; a waffler who loves the sound of his own voice.
And this appears to have rubbed off on the Council’s unelected officials who are left – far too often in the opinion of others – to make important decisions without reference to him.
Where else in the world would you find a council whose officers fraternise and wine and dine with contractors?
Whether these officials did or did not make a financial contribution to the luxury restaurant bills they received for champagne, T-bone steaks, double portions of monkfish or expensive Spanish Rioja is immaterial.
What is relevant now is that they did it all while taking home £100,000 plus in salaries and expenses from the public purse.
This in the area where they work, where poverty is endemic and the use food banks is the only way some families can survive until their next welfare benefit payment comes in. This is a disgrace.
We don’t know if this was criminal and doubt whether it will ever come to court, but what is not acceptable is that it happened at all.
If these officials did take this hospitality without paying for it, from the managing director of a construction company, which received £2.4 million worth of council contracts without going through the laid down procedures for procurement, then that amounts to graft and corruption.
And if the Council then tried to cover it up in an auditor’s report in which 87 pages were redacted – page after page after page of details were blanked out – then that is a scandal.
Only the names should have been redacted to protect the innocent.
The Democrat has been banned and boycotted by the SNP in this area because we dig deeply into council affairs and point out wrongdoing when we discover it.
If that is the charge then we plead guilty, but that is our role in life and the SNP must admit that they receive balanced and extensive coverage in The Democrat for initiatives they consider should be commended.
It is unfortunate that because of the austerity policies currently being adopted at Holyrood and Westminster that good news is in short supply.
But we don’t do forelock tugging, bending the knee or walking away.
If we were to report all the bad news involving budget cuts, then there would be blood running out of the bottom of my computer.
In a nutshell, council tax is going up, rents are being increased, essential services are being slashed, people are losing their jobs, old people are not receiving the services they deserve, children are living in abject poverty and schools, mainly because they are starved of money, are failing to turn out pupils who can read, write and do basic arithmetic.
As for the sexual abuse of children in public and religious institutions, don’t even go there.
There are of course some brilliant pupils achieving remarkable results in our schools, but the way the local government propaganda spin doctors work (at the behest of their bosses) we only hear about them, the achievers.
We are told little or nothing about the failures, the strugglers and the truants who do not succeed or don’t turn up at all..
Percentages instead of actual numbers are used to cover up the facts.
But let us return to Cllr McColl who sits on his adequate bottom presiding over all of this.
Take the council budget, which is to be decided finally at the end of this month.
Jackie Baillie and David McBride and the cover-up famed Council office.
Dumbarton and Lomond MSP Jackie Baillie and her Labour colleague, Councillor David McBride, have called on the SNP Leader, Jonathan McColl, to tell the truth about budget discussions here.
This comes after they received a Scottish Government denial that the council leader or any of his colleagues ever met “top people” to discuss the 2019-20 Scottish budget.
I was at the meeting – they couldn’t find an excuse to lock me out that day – when Cllr McColl promised to have talks with the Finance Minister, Derek Mackay, to see if he could screw any more money out of him to ameliorate the impact of austerity in West Dunbartonshire.
He puffed out his chest and said he would be meeting people in high places with this in mind.
Both in his Dumbarton Reporter column on February 5, and at the West Dunbartonshire Council meeting on the 14 February, Jonathan McColl claimed that he had held meetings with senior SNP Government Ministers to discuss West Dunbartonshire Council’s core budget settlement.
Cllr McColl claimed that it was thanks to these discussions that the Scottish Government had done a deal with the Greens – it included agreement with the right of councils to impose parking at work charges – in Holyrood to give the local authority an additional £1.5 million.
SNP people who have been drawn into this controversy – Nicola Sturgeon, Kate Forbes, Ian Dickson and Derek Mackay.
There was a short skirmish with Labour over the details of when and where the talks had taken place and what was achieved by them.
Cllr McColl said that he and Cllr Ian Dickson had met Cllr Mackay in a Glasgow hotel and later at the SNP Christmas party in Stirling.
Cllr McBride was swift to point out that this was not what had been agreed unanimously by the full Council.
When the Council agreed to these talks, they hadn’t meant that the leader and his colleagues should tour the country having cups of tea in Glasgow and maybe a pint together in Stirling.
Cllr McBride told him off in no uncertain manner, but the council leader persisted and even insisted that the talks had indeed resulted in more cash for West Dunbartonshire.
However, in answer to a written parliamentary question from Jackie Baillie MSP, Kate Forbes, the Scottish Government Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, stated that the Scottish Government has not had any discussions or correspondence with the leader of West Dunbartonshire Council or members of the council’s SNP group regarding the 2019-20 Budget.
She went on to say that negotiations on annual local government settlements are conducted between the Scottish Government and COSLA on behalf of all 32 local authorities, which is how these things are done.
Jackie Baillie said: “The people of West Dunbartonshire expected Jonathan McColl to meet with the Scottish Government to discuss their 2019-20 budget settlement as he was asked to do by the Council in December. Either he didn’t bother or the Scottish Government are lying.
“Jonathan McColl has claimed time and time again that he was the person to thank for the additional money that the local authority got from the Scottish Government. But it turns out he didn’t bother to meet Ministers and neither did any of his colleagues.
“Whatever the truth is, local people have still lost out. The management adjustments, which are cuts by another name, that the SNP Council agreed to take this year mean over £2 million of cuts and people losing their jobs.
“I hope that next year Jonathan McColl will take his role as Council Leader more seriously and ensure that West Dunbartonshire is given enough money to pay for all our services and protect local jobs.”
When he was told that to be official, a meeting between a councillor and a government official didn’t count if no officials were present. and there were none at any meeting which may have taken place between between Cllr McColl and members of the Cabinet.
Cllr McColl then boasted to the meeting that he was perfectly capable of doing the lobbying on his own and that he did not need officials “holding his hand”.
Cllr David McBride hit out: “It’s time the SNP councillors stood up to their own party and demand their Government stop slashing council services.
“The Council leader was instructed by his fellow councillors in November to meet with Scottish Government Ministers to lobby for more funding.
“We [now] know from official Government responses he did not meet any government ministers.
“He is either not the least bit interested in challenging his own masters on behalf of this community, or they hold him and West Dunbartonshire in such contempt they won’t even meet him. Enough is enough, it is time to end the Tories’ austerity in Westminster and SNP austerity in Holyrood.”
In my opinion as a journalist and a fully paid up council taxpayer in West Dunbartonshire, Jackie Baillie and David McBride are being far too kind.
The council procurement process has been largely ignored and mishandled – something that we have been told is still going on – and has led to the council being brought into disrepute.
Chief Executive Joyce White, left, protested at earlier criticism which she said she found to be unacceptable and when the council was “on a journey” to sort matters out.
They had achieved a figure of 44 per cent, she said, although Cllr Jim Bollan revealed that procedure had not been followed for 20 out of 27 contracts awarded.
Unless this community is prepared to put up with what is going on in Church Street and Glasgow Road then the time has come for the Sword of Damocles to fall.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon should send in the executioner before this scandalous situation remains in place here and eventually leads to her own political demise.