By BILL HEANEY
Despite being told by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that there is no need for further austerity in West Dunbartonshire, her SNP colleagues have come up with a wheeze which will see council workers’ hours reduced and cuts implemented at Community centres.
In a bare-faced, brass necked move last night, the SNP and council spin doctors attempted to pass off the cuts in services and staffing as savings.
They said: “Councillors will vote later this month on proposals that keep all the Council’s Community Centres open and save £187,000 per year.
“A review of the Council’s existing 12 community facilities has identified the opportunity to introduce a more efficient operating model that would save £130,000 a year.”
That is arrant nonsense. Expect a public outcry about this then as trade unions are bound to react furiously to the announcement and industrial action is bound to follow from it.
The media release, about which the Council and its SNP leader Jonathan McColl refuses to take questions from The Democrat, states: “These approaches would include greater use of staff pools [groups], so that employees only opened centres when bookings were on; a review of opening hours; giving keys to some regular groups using the halls; and a review of existing charges.”
It says nothing about what staff would do when bookings were not on or how they propose to turn members of the public into hall keepers and if the intention of the review of the existing charges is to increase them.
In addition, the Council is proposes that a further £57,000 could be saved by making the opening hours at the Glenhead Community Centre similar to those of Duntocher Library which is based in the centre.
And states that if the opening times were broadly similar then Library staff could assist with opening and closing Glenhead on behalf of the Council leisure trust, and dependent on the exact bookings allow community groups access to the hall during some of the hours.
On paper these proposals would appear to amount to a DIY servce which would charge the public more for services which are currently provided by council employees.
The media release states: “WDLT would have discussions with user groups to explore alternative arrangements for access to the building outside of these hours such as keyholding responsibilities which would limit the staffing requirements from WDLT.
“Support would also be provided to community groups to use alternative venues in the nearby area, if required. Likely beneficiaries would be the Duntocher Village Hall and the charitable Antonine Sports Centre.”
The proposals, which look like a pig’s breakfast drawn up by amateurs, are said to “respond to the request by Council in 2018 to review the Community Centres and come forward with suggestions for how to save £130,000 a year.”
What they really are is the council trying to achieve the savings they would like to save without paying the last bit of attention to the results of two public consultations which indicated there was no public support for individual closures of local centres.
The media release added: “Residents also wanted more money invested in the Community Centres to make them more attractive venues to use.”
What the Council have come up with is a suggestion to cut the staffing, opening hours and money and replace it with a cobbled together plan to achieve what they want and little or nothing of what the public is asking for – centes which are more attractive, better equipped and adequately staffed.
The report to Corporate Services Committee on 13 November responds to this feedback by proposing to keep all Community Centres open, and highlighting that more than £5m will be invested in the Community Centres between now and 2022/23, but there are no details of the plan or how it will be financed or achieved..
Malcolm Bennie, Strategic Lead for Communications, Culture, Communities and Facilities, said: “The report highlights that the existing Community Centres cost the Council £766,000 a year more than they bring in from bookings. This proposal would allow the Council to reduce those costs by £187,000 a year without closing a single centre.”
Turned around that could be made to read that the council wants to reduce costs by £187,000 a year by dispensing with staff and replacing these centres, which would be open only when events were taking place with librarians and members of the public taking over the duties and the jobs of the hall keepers.
The Council however see it like this: “Moving forward the centres would benefit from £5 million of investment, and be staffed in line with bookings and demand.
“This proposal would also operate the Glenhead Community Centre in the most efficient way, to generate a significant saving with minimal disruption to existing users.”
How could any organisation never mind a basket case council such as West Dunbartonshire claim its intention for these centres is to invest £5 million in them when the immediate intention is to save the council £187,000?
A throwaway line at the end of the press release says the new hours (they mean the reduced hours) would reduce competition between Glenhead Community Centre and the community-run Duntocher Village Hall and charitable Antonine Sports Centre.”
They claim: “This could help these popular local facilities to continue to thrive.”
They must believe our heads zip up the back.
What they really mean is that this would inevitably lead to one of these centres closing and result in the council reducing services and saving even more money.
“The report does contain other options and ultimately it is for Councillors to decide on the best way forward later this month.”
Really? That’s kind of him. It is really not funny that the official who prepared this ridiculous report concedes that this decision should be left to the councillors who were elected by the public to make decisions such as these.
Or is this yet another chapter of the incompetence and chaos we have come to expect from West Dunbartonshire Council and the SNP locally?