By Bill Heaney
Harsh criticism of the way the public are treated by West Dunbartonshire Council has emerged from a trade union consultation about opening hours for the Council offices in the Burgh Hall at Dumbarton.
GMB trade union representative David Scott asked Council employees for their thoughts on the opening hours at the £15 million, refurbished Church Street offices being changed from 7am to 7pm to 6pm, a reduction of one hour.
This will puzzle many people since the main front doors of the offices, where the reception is situated, are often closed to the public until 9.30am.
The question being asked of staff is: “What are staff thoughts on Church Street opening hours being changed from 7am – 7pm to 7am – 6pm for a trial period?
“Will this change affect your work pattern or do you have any thoughts on this change?”
Staff member Jean McMurdo Halliday said the proposal seemed “logical” since it would allow staff more flexibility in starting/finishing their work.
This was the situation at their old offices in Garshake, which are currently being demolished.
But David Scott told her: “They [the management] are taking away an hour, so you would then have less flexibility.”
Jean McMurdo Halliday reconsidered her position on the matter – “[I’m] not sure then! Although I think 7pm is pretty late to finish a working day even though you may or may not have started later.
“What would be interesting is to find out the percentage of staff that have used up to date.”
Allan Kane pointed out – “Surely it’ll affect anyone that uses flexi?”
These questions were followed by an excoriating outburst from Sean McFall, deeply critical of the present situation regarding the way the public are treated by some council employees.
He said: “WDC should make sure that staff are available when the public want them to be. Frequently they don’t answer the phone for more than ten minutes, then when you do get through, the switchboard operator doesn’t have a clue where to direct your call.
“Then, even if you get connected to the right extension, you’ll be told that the person you need ‘isn’t in today’ and, of course, nobody else can deal with your query.
“If a business treated its customers like WDC treats its taxpayers, they’d go bust.
“The problem is that there is no imperative on [Chief Executive Joyce] White and her thousands of employees to improve anything at all.
“Because, as the ongoing allegations of impropriety show, they’re unaccountable, untouchable and don’t give a toss for the people who pay their wages.”
Allan Kane said: “I assure you that the thousands of employees do give a toss and are far from unaccountable or untouchable.”
Margaret McMillan said: “That’s the same as us, we get told they are on the phone not at their desk or outside how come we can’t say that when we are at work.”
Sean McFall asked: “So why are the services so bad? WDC has been in the bottom five of the performance tables for Scottish Councils for a very long time. Budgets are allegedly cut but the headcount barely changes – how does that work?”
Margaret Mcmillan said: “That’s the same as us we get told they are on the phone not at their desk or outside how come we can’t say that when we are at work.”
Cllr Jim Bollan, who appears to be about the only councillor willing to communicate with the electorate on social media told Allan Kane: “You are spot on, the shortage of staff is widespread across the Council. In one department alone there are four contracts on hold waiting on a procurement officer being allocated to them? Wonder how that happened…
“There is also a backlog of applications for medical points in housing currently running at over 200.
“In another department, we are so short-staffed that an employee on flexible retirement is having to work extra hours and be paid overtime, which they are quite rightly entitled to.”
But Sean McFall stuck with his criticism: “What’s the current FTE headcount and what was it in the last five years? How many staff have actually been shed?
“Not counting those in housing since obviously all of their wages, pensions and employment costs are completely paid for by the HRA.”
Jim Bollan replied that around 700 jobs had been lost in the past six years – “We used to have 6,200 it is now 5,500.
“Stress-related work illness is on the increase again due to the shortage of staff.”
Craig Clifford said: “On average over 100 jobs a year disappearing. Aye, no much of a change there eh? Folk still expect the same level of service as well.”
The Council refuses to comment to The Democrat, but this seems to be yet another instance of them getting things wrong at the Burgh Hall which is neither fit for purpose as a debating chamber or offices for the Social Work Department, whose officials require privacy and have had to be moved.