Labour calls on West Dunbartonshire citizens to boycott the SNP budget consultation
Cllrs Rooney and McColl clashed in debate over budget this week.
By Bill Heaney
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is wrong when she says the SNP-run West Dunbartonshire Council don’t need to make any more budget cuts.
Councillor Martin Rooney, who leads the Labour group on Finance, told a meeting of the Council this week that consultation “is the cornerstone of any democracy and should be viewed as a positive and empowering experience”.
However, in West Dunbartonshire, he claimed that under this SNP administration, consultation had lost all meaning.
And he called on the electorate to boycott a public consultation the Council is about to embark on.
The Vale of Leven member asked: “How callous is this SNP administration, propped up by Bailie [Denis] Agnew, to ask our young people, elderly, infirm, disabled and vulnerable to CHOOSE the cuts they want? Is this some sort of Trumpian democracy?”
He added: “Whatever loaded form it comes in; Labour certainly do not recognise or endorse it. We are horrified that the SNP are imposing £9 million worth of cuts to services.
“If SNP Group Leader, Jonathan McColl, is dismissing the view of his Party leader, then what chance do our citizens have of making him listen?
“It is blindingly obvious, as the Speaker of Parliament would say, that this SNP Administration is completely out of touch with our citizens’ views.
“Nobody is happy with cuts affecting our schoolchildren, community groups, grass cutting services, and community alarm price hikes for our vulnerable.
“That is why Labour is taking the unprecedented move of discouraging residents in West Dunbartonshire from participating in the Council Budget Consultation.
“Our citizens do not deserve to be the turkeys voting for Christmas and the SNP need to stop blaming our hard-working citizens for wanting budget cuts – that simply is not the case.
“Labour will not be encouraging any citizens to complete this survey until such time that a ZERO CUTS BUDGET option is on the consultation paper.
“We ask fellow citizens and Councillors to endorse the Labour Party’s position and support our ‘Boycott the Budget Consultation’ Campaign.”
He told the electorate: “If you use Twitter, we would appreciate residents using the #BoycottTheBudgetConsultation hashtag line to spread the word.
“Democracy is being eroded under the SNP; support this Motion to see it restored for the good of our citizens.”
UNITE’S Margaret Wood and UNISON’S Valerie Jennings led the trade union delegation to the Council on Wednesday. Pictures by Bill Heaney
However, the Labour motion was narrowly voted down, despite the fact that UNITE and UNISON trade union reps, Margaret Wood and Valerie Jennings, joined by a delegation which was kept out in the street outside Clydebank Town Hall.
SNP leader Jonathan McColl told the meeting: “The simple fact that we need more central funding if we are to deliver the services our citizens need.
“Even with no central funding cuts, service enhancements or added requirements from the Scottish or UK Governments, the Council needs approximately an extra £5m in funding just to stand still; this is due to inflation, wage rises and increasing needs of our residents.
“The Council’s cumulative projected gap over the next two years is almost £17m and is likely to increase into the following year.
“While West Dunbartonshire Council is committed to doing everything we can to protect jobs and services, the reality is that if austerity continues, across the UK, Councils, including ours, will be struggling to provide statutory services; indeed, some already are.
“BREXIT is also an unquantifiable, extreme risk to the UK economy and we have no idea how it will affect Council finances.”
He maintained the SNP administration supported the Trade Unions’ anti-austerity campaign – “in light of feedback from the Trade Unions last year, this year’s budget consultation is very different.”
- There are no questions asking people to choose savings options.
- People are not being asked to give us feedback on a balanced budget.
- People are instead being asked to tell us what services areas they value most, and if there are areas they would like to see enhanced.
- People can choose to tell the Council that they wish us to prioritise investment in all services areas if they wish.
- Savings/Enhancement options will be published towards the end of the year, but we will not hold a specific consultation on them as per the request from Trade Unions.
Cllr McColl said members would use the feedback from the budget consultation to make political decisions about how they should balance the budget.
Advice from anyone with knowledge of Council services was fully encouraged, members of the public, and staff, to take part in the consultation.
As always, he added, the Administration “welcomed ideas and input from Trade Union and Councillor colleagues cross party in setting our budget”.
Between now and February, the SNP would be encouraging members of the other side of the table “to bring forward realistic suggestions for ways in which we can make savings or increase the money we have available to spend to enable us to protect staff and services”.
Cllr Rooney refused to back down. He said: “If you use Twitter, we would appreciate residents using the #BoycottTheBudgetConsultation hashtag line to spread the word.”