ROLL UP, AND YOU MIGHT SEE DEMOCRACY IN ACTION

The Council Offices in Church Street and Cllrs David McBride, Jonathan McColl and Martin Rooney and the Coat of Arms.

Bill Heaney’s NOTEBOOK

You spend £15 million of taxpayers’ money refurbishing the old Burgh Hall to accommodate staff and create a new Council chamber to hold your (public) meetings in.

Then you tell members of the public who turn up to your meetings that they really should go home and listen into them on the wireless.

Then you write letters spilling over with fulsome praise for what you have achieved with the building which attracts an easily obtainable award from the architectural world.

It’s no more than a PR exercise, but you go along with it anyway.

You also tell the electorate and indeed the whole community what a wonderful space this expensively refurbished space is to work in.

But then, you come to realise that while it may not quite be money down the drain, the newly fitted out old Burgh Hall is not fit for purpose.

That it wasn’t appropriate to accommodate the Social Work Department in an open plan office and it certainly wasn’t suitable to accommodate an audience at a public meeting.

Audience is a key word here because the handful of members of the public you do manage to accommodate cannot hear a thing of what’s going on.

And now a motion by Labour leader Councillor David McBride, the person who believed how wonderful it all was and unadvisedly said so, proves this.

Maybe, but I doubt it, the SNP administration will listen to him because they certainly wouldn’t listen to me when I told them this.

At one meeting, I waited until a tea break and raised the matter with Provost William Hendrie, who had been in the chair.

He said it had nothing to do with him yet he was the person who sent out a message at an earlier meeting in Clydebank when the press and public had been locked out.

His message was that he had no intention of rectifying that situation and we should all go home and listen to it on the radio.

To say the Provost is inarticulate and unsure of himself at public meetings would be an understatement.

He was offered coaching at one stage but arrogantly turned it down.

Then he became flustered and I was interrupted by a group of officials.

They surrounded me and told me it was not appropriate to draw attention to the fact that the Press and public could not see or hear what was going on, the meeting was a sham, a public meeting in name only.

I was asked to leave the chamber after the SNP administration leader Jonathan McColl told me I was too critical of his party and that he didn’t trust me to be fair in my reporting of council matters.

When I turned up for a subsequent meeting, I was told by a Communications Officer that I was barred from being present in the chamber.

I told her that if she wanted to insist on me leaving, she would have to have good reason and call the police to do that.

Then Cllr Jim Bollan came across and told her, as she well knew, that I was a bone fide journalist and that I had been covering the Council for the past 50 years and more.

I was perfectly entitled as a member of the Press to be given the facilities usually accorded to the Press, which are that you are given sight of the papers before a meeting and are allocated a seat on the Press Bench, of which there is none in Dumbarton.

Since then, another senior Labour councillor, Martin Rooney, has been critical of me in public for doing what he and his colleagues should be doing, which is holding the SNP properly to account for the many poor decisions they have made since coming into office.

It is my view – and the view of some (too few) councillors and members of the public  – that the SNP have formed a hopeless administration, which has made too many U-turns and poor decisions.

It is an echo of what Labour and the Tories are now doing at Westminster.

They have refused to listen to the public and by retaining the inadequate sound system in the chamber have refused to allow the public to listen to them.

Today, it has become clear at last that some councillors are waking up to this fact and may well support Councillor McBride’s motion.

But will they?

A more strongly worded motion might have helped to gain wider support.

This mea culpa from Labour sounds reluctant and is a long time coming.

When added to Cllr Rooney’s naïve statement that The Democrat only sees one side of the story – the dark side – it sounds as though they are apologising to the SNP for standing up for the electorate, which is what they are there for and which they should be proud to do.

I don’t really care if they stand up for me to be allowed the usual democratic privilege of covering council meetings and receiving the usual courtesies extended to the Press in general.

Being singled out like this is a badge of honour, something of which I am proud.

Especially when I think of what they did in the recent graft and corruption saga when the comic singers, big eaters and simultaneous dancers walked away scot free.

I look forward to including it in my memoir which, if these people are still there when it is published (I sincerely hope they’re not), they will probably have it banned from the public libraries.

Margaret Thatcher once said that being challenged by Geoffrey Howe in the House of Commons was “like being attacked by a dead sheep”.

I am afraid there is a whole flock of dead sheep, with just a few exceptions, in what passes for a Council chamber in Dumbarton.

Cllr McBride’s motion will be heard at 6pm in Clydebank Town Hall tomorrow night (Wednesday). Turn up early or face being sent home to listen to the wireless.

It is as follows: Civic Space Church Street Council notes the capacity of the public viewing gallery in the Church Civic Space is limited. While this provides sufficient seating for most meetings, depending on the agenda item, this will not accommodate the capacity required if there is a contentious issue being considered, or for the annual budget setting meeting. We note the many interested members of the public were locked out of the June meeting when the Flamingoland development was being considered. Council believes public interest in local democracy should be encouraged and, if possible, we should attempt to satisfy the demand for people to attend meetings if they wish. Therefore, we call on the Chief Executive to arrange space planning to maximise public attendance in the Church Street Civic Space when demand is required. If a large attendance of the public is anticipated for a Council Meeting the seating could be arranged in a similar manner to committee meetings, possibly at one side of the Civic Space and not dissimilar to the arrangement in the Council Chamber in Clydebank Town Hall. This could allow additional seating and increase capacity to attend Council Meetings. In addition, a temporary barrier could be procured to ensure there is a suitable defined space for Elected Members, Officers and members of the public. Council also requests that the Chief Executive [Joyce White] reports back to next Council with options and costs of proposals which could also include live visual streaming to the large screen in the Council Staff area. In addition, we would also wish to consider holding meetings if required in the Lesser Town Hall when the Clydebank Council Chamber proves unable to accommodate the public. Therefore, we also request any costs involved to ensure this supports the live streaming of meetings.

The Council staff who now work in the open space which wasn’t suitable for Social Work, and to which this motion refers, must be dismayed to learn if this goes through that they will be able not just to hear meetings, which will not just be broadcast but screened for hours on end in their office day after day. Nightmare doesn’t cut it. Their trade unions should certainly be involved in discussions about this. It’s rendition in disguise.  It’s not good news either to learn that the proposal goes to some lengths to separate the members and officials from the public. That’s hardly following the line that ‘local democracy should be encouraged’. How can you do that by not speaking to people?

PS: The Council officers should look at the civil engineering report on the work taking place at Dumbarton Sheriff Court. It says the building was constructed on silt and that it moves from time to time. Was a similar inspection done before the Burgh Hall was built almost next door to the court? And how much of the ‘naturally maturing debt’ paid by the Council this year was interest? I think we should be told.


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