Don’t bother coming. Provost says there’s no room for public at meeting
Provost William Hendrie and the new Burgh Hall which can’t accommodate a meeting of West Dunbartonshire Council.
EXCLUSIVE By Bill Heaney
The Provost of West Dunbartonshire has told the public not to bother turning up for the monthly meeting of the Council which is due to take place in the Burgh Hall which has just been renovated at a huge cost of £15 million.
Provost William Hendrie has written to this effect to concerned citizen Iain Ellis, pictured right, of the West Dunbartonshire Against Austerity group, who asked for more seats to be made available for the public for the Council’s annual budget meeting next Wednesday at 2 pm.
The Provost earlier refused a request from the public to shift the time of what promises to be a stormy encounter between the SNP administration and opposition members, to 6pm in the evening in order that more people could attend after work.
And he later refused to accept a motion from Councillor Jim Bollan of the Community Party on the issue of alleged graft and corruption.
This is said to have involved council officials dining out on T-bone steaks, expensive Spanish wine and champagne and playing golf with a contractor who is said to have received £7 million of contracts from the Council.
These are alleged to have included one for more than £60,000 for a small car park in Dalmuir for which the tender document was allegedly altered, and for which the proper procurement procedures were not followed.
It is claimed that an internal audit report in which page after page was redacted (blanked out) revealed that at least 20 out of a portfolio of 27 contracts were awarded when the procurement procedures were by-passed.
The officials claim they didn’t receive this hospitality and that they picked up their share of the hospitality bills themselves.
The Provost’s decision to tell the public to stay away has all the hallmarks of a desperate attempt by the Council not to be seen washing its dirty linen in public.
This was Provost Hendrie’s reply to Iain Ellis:
Dear Ian (name spelt wrongly),
The public gallery in Church Street can hold around 30 people. While there is physically space for more, adding seating would put too much weight on the balcony and would be unsafe.
At a previous Council meeting in Church Street we permitted members of the public to use seating within the Chamber.
Not only did members of the public complain that they could not hear proceedings (as the speaker system in this space is not designed for this use), [if a speaker system was not designed to allow people to hear what is going on, can anyone explain what it was designed for?] but a number of Councillors and officers were accosted by members of the public in a threatening manner; this is not acceptable.
[If this is a reference to the fact that I spoke briefly to the Provost during a break in the meeting about being unable to hear and also being unable to identify councillors and officials who were sitting with their backs to the press and public then it is distortion of the events as they took place. The truth of the matter is that the Provost appeared to become confused and embarrassed by what I was telling him and the Council solicitor intervened. Then the Communications officer intervened and then the Chief Executive intervened and then Malcolm Bennie (I do not know his designation) intervened. I was told my questions, asked in an entirely mannerly way, were ‘inappropriate’ and told to go out on to the landing in the stairway. I protested at this, but I went just the same and returned to my (broken) seat after the tea break. The incident was a storm in a tea break.]
The Provost’s letter to Iain Ellis goes on: “As an Administration, we have a duty of care to our staff and fellow elected members. Therefore, given the capacity of our public gallery is on a par with other local authorities with much larger population bases, and the fact that we stream all of our meetings and the recording is available for six months afterwards, I will not be permitting general public access to the chamber during full Council meetings.
[The truth of the matter is that the streaming system does not work because some councillors do not know how to use it it. If the Council check the tapes, they will find that a whole contribution from Bailie Denis Agnew, which should have been on tape , was missed during the last meeting because he didn’t switch his microphone on. This makes the last paragraph of the Provost’s letter to Mr Ellis irrelevant.]
It states: “Since the Council implemented audio streaming of our meetings, there is no need for members of the public with access to the internet to attend meetings in person. I would ask that you consider listening from the comfort of your own home and leave the available seating for those who wish to listen but have no internet access.
Provost William Hendrie
Mr Ellis, who is a well-known and respected resident of Dumbarton, told members of the Dumbarton Against Austerity Group: “So, only the first 30 people will get in. This is a shocking decision as people not only like to hear but to see these meetings. Please contact the provost and all other councillors asking for more seating to be made available.”
Another member of the group, Andy McCallion, replied: “We should attend in numbers and demand access. We are the constituents and they should be acting on our behalf, not their own.”
Cllr Jim Bollan described the Provost’s decision as “scandalous” and it was suggested that the Council should switch the venue for the meeting to the Denny Civic Theatre, which holds 340 people.
The last important meeting held there was when the Council found itself forced by public opinion to switch the site of the new Our Lady and St Patrick’s High School from Posties Park to Bellsmyre.
Another member of the group, Wendy Cannon, said: “[This is] disgraceful. If this is true, then all the money spent on the new offices is a waste if it can’t accommodate [a large number] of members of the public. This should be a building for the people.”
Trade union activist, Sean Davenport, told her: “It can accommodate the public, this is a decision being made by the Provost, who chairs the council meetings, not to allow the public to sit in any part of the room except the balcony.
“There is sufficient space on the floor of the main part of the room if it’s managed appropriately, but he is point blank refusing that, and creating a smokescreen with various excuses. This is nothing but a political decision.”
- Bill Heaney is the editor, publisher and proprietor of The Dumbarton Democrat digital newspaper which he set up after retiring as a columnist from the Lennox Herald, where he was once editor. He is an emeritus editor of the Society of Editors and a Life Member of the National Union of Journalists.