The abandoned and polluted Esso site at Bowling pictured from the Old Kilpatrick Hills and from the River Clyde.

 By Bill Heaney

Cash-strapped West Dunbartonshire Council – their debt has soared to an unconscionable £544 million – is still in the local government finance casino with Exxon Mobil, one of the richest oil companies in the world.

The Council appears to be sticking to its plan to pick up the tab for cleaning up the abandoned and polluted Esso tank farm between Dumbuck, Bowling and Milton on the banks of the Clyde.

The project is part of the City Deal Project, a series of 20 development projects costing £1.13 billion over ten years aimed at creating more than 600 jobs on Clydeside.

The Council are expected to agree this week to agree plans to increase the local taxpayers’ stake in the game from £3.8million to £4.7million when more cautious players might be persuaded to throw in their hand.

And quit while they are losing – yet again.

Concern increased this week when a new report revealed that the filthy rich oilmen withdrew from a briefing session with the Council, which was planned to take place on the 14th of this month.

ExxonMobil have informed the Council that they are not in a position at present to conclude their procurement approach to deliver the remediation strategy.

Which is not unexpected since they have been so caught up in the fall-out from another environmentally disastrous project at Mossmorran in Fife.

It is however heartening to hear officially that ExxonMobil – unlike West Dunbartonshire Council – have a procurement policy which they appear to be sticking with.

The Council was lambasted earlier this year not so much because they didn’t have a procurement policy but because they ignored it for so long.

And went out wining dining and playing golf with prospective contractors who wanted £ millions of work from them, which was against their in-house code of conduct.

“It is hoped that clarity on the length of delay this issue will cause to our discussions will be known shortly,” councillors will be told at their monthly meeting on Wednesday evening.

“The proposed members’ briefing will then be held as soon as is practicable thereafter.

“The Council has met with all third party landowners and discussions are progressing as planned and will progress in parallel with the Council’s negotiations with ExxonMobil.”

There are a number of senior officers involved in the City Region initiative across services of the Council and as part of the project board.

The Council has approved a refreshed Outline Business Case for the Exxon project and has an overall Council budget approval of £34.05m, with a secured City Deal contribution at 86% of original Cabinet budget of £27.897m equating to £23.991m.

Alarm bells should be ringing at this information: “The projected capital cost to the Council, should no further funding be made available and secured from City Deal would be £10.059m.

“The expenditure for the City Deal project for 2018/19 was £0.304m. As at 30 June 2019 the total project Capital expenditure was £1.477m.

“Spend continues to be minimised to avoid irrecoverable costs should the project not proceed in its current form.”

There are a number of project risks associated with the development at the ExxonMobil project site.

Consultation with all key stakeholders is said to be progressing as the Council continues to work as part of the Glasgow City Region.

Council documents say the Exxon City Deal project, which is to create a new road into Dumbarton, has approved funding of £27.897 million over the next five years.

The refreshed outline business case is seeking funding over the next six years of £34.050 million, an increase of £6.153 million.

A report from Jim McAloon, which received overwhelming approval from the SNP administration last month, said the detailed studies and assessments carried out over the past two years had given the Council a better understanding of the complexity of the site.

“These studies have included flood alleviation, site drainage, road access and egress arrangements, the eastern railway over-bridge, the western railway under-bridge and the quay walls [at Bowling Harbour], together with a market assessment on the value of the site once the project has been developed out.”

An earlier report revealed the financial implications for West Dunbartonshire were £760,000 in 2018/19. As of October this year, the total project capital expenditure was £1.477 million. The approved budget expenditure for the City Deal Exxon project totals £2.948 million over 2017/18/19.

Mr McAloon, the Council’s Strategic Lead, Regeneration, states that “consultation with all key stakeholders is progressing as we continue to work as part of the Glasgow City Region”.

The SNP administration in West Dunbartonshire has stated that one of its main priorities is a strong local economy and improved employment opportunities.

They hope the cleaned up Exxon site will be regenerated as an industrial estate where 600 people would find jobs – “the proposals within this report are specifically designed to deliver on this priority”.

However, with this latest publicity, the Scottish and Westminster governments and West Dunbartonshire Council may wish to investigate and consider their position in the City Deal.

We have asked the Council to comment on this, but they refuse to take questions from The Democrat.

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