West Dunbartonshire Council could not run a bath, audit report shows

Basket case council HQ in Church Street in Dumbarton, CEO Joyce White and Cllr Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP administration.

By Bill Heaney

West Dunbartonshire Council is not just a basket case, it’s a very large shopping trolley whose wheels are stuck and won’t move forward.

Most of Scotland’s 32 councils, including West Dunbartonshire, are increasingly relying on money from reserves to keep up  with demand for services and balance their budgets.

A report from the Accounts Commission, Scotland’s national watchdog for local
government, says the financial pressures are likely to get worse.

Especially for inept councils such as West Dunbartonshire, which is down at the bottom of the pile. And no wonder.

This digital platform has campaigned for special measures to square the books, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has never listened never mind not done something about it.

West Dunbartonshire has been struggling this year to recover from the “incalculable” £ millions lost when under Labour the council drifted into a procurement scandal when procedures for tendering for council contracts were ignored.

This left a black hole in their accounts and seriously damaged their public image when it was followed up by opprobrium being heaped on the SNP for taking no action against council officials who went on a dining out spree involving champagne and T-bone steak dinners in fancy hotel and restaurants.

There have been rows ever since. Not about the food and drink, which were said to be exquisite, epicurean even, but who was paying for it.

The officials said they picked up their own tab, but a whistleblower threw more than 50 restaurant receipts into the mix and asked the questions Council chief executive and SNP group leader leader leader, Jonathan McColl, didn’t want to hear.

In a word it was,  Really? Can you believe it?

Details are beginning to emerge about another scandal involving a loss of more than £5 million on a central heating system at Queens’ Quay in Clydebank.

The item was the new water pumped heating system being installed at the Queens Quay in Clydebank. Projected cost £15 million. The cost to date is an eye-watering £20 million.

It’s not as if they weren’t warned. The Democrat told them about a similar scheme in Bonhill which had gone radiator up at Bonhill.

The council paid consultants £200,000 to draw up the spec for the one at Queens’ Quay, which was then changed and allocated to another consultant who was also paid a large fee.

According to a council insider, the private contractor is running rings around the Council and making all sorts of monetary claims against them.

She said this was “another botched project where the Council taxpayer will end up paying the price”.

The situation is so grim the council have hired another specialist consultant for £49,000 to evaluate if the price increases are valid or not.

And then there is widespread concern about the lack of democracy in the Council where the SNP and Independents are being kept in power by the only two Conservatives. The Tartan Tories.

The press and public, who have from time to time been locked out of public meetings of the council have expressed their dismay and said they feel the council must have much to hide. Openness and transparency? Most definitely not. Not this SNP-run council.

This digital newspaper, has been banned and boycotted because we said the council leader should resign and take his SNP colleagues with him.

It was plain as the nose on your face that they were not up to the job. And now that has been proved beyond a scintilla of doubt.

Calling them a bunch of amateurs doesn’t cut it. They even switch off the microphones of opposition councillors who wish to raise important matters with them. Three Wise Monkeys comes to mind.

Meanwhile, although no sanctions were taken against officials for for blatantly disregarding procurement and council code of conduct rules, a major reshuffle of the council management team was done “on the quiet” during the summer recess.

The council have been involved in public land sales totalling almost £20 million which could wipe out some of the steadily moving debt mountain.

However, they would have to do that judiciously and that seems to be yet another word that’s not in their vocabulary.

Demand for council services continues to grow, funding for councils from the Scottish Government has reduced by 7.6 per  cent since 2013/14 and is forecast to reduce further.

The report, Local Government in Scotland, also says Integration Joint Boards such as Health and Social Care Partnerships are struggling to balance their budgets; in 2018/19, 19 of Scotland’s 30 IJBs needed additional funding, or recorded deficits. That appears to have been another bad SNP idea.

Graham Sharp, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “We urgently need much faster
progress in the reform of our health and social care services. The current position is
increasingly unsustainable.

“There’s a need for councils to continue rethinking how they deliver services, as well as look at ways to increase their income. For some councils in Scotland, finding ways to do this is getting more and more difficult as their current income doesn’t match demand.”

Reporters have been trying to seek out Council leader McColl, of the SNP, and the Labour leader, Martin Rooney, with no success for comment on this. McColl’s out of office reply says he won’t be back until January 6.

Meanwhile, the Health Board, have issued this statement to The Democrat: “NHSGGC has six Councillors on its Board, one for each of the Councils in our area. The Scottish Ministers appoint these members of the Board having received a nomination from each relevant Council. Councillor McColl has attended all six of our Board meetings this year.

“The process for appointments to public bodies in Scotland is not a matter which falls within the remit of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.  Accordingly any views on this national process would most appropriately be directed to the Scottish Government.

It would not be appropriate for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to provide to you any comment upon the health or personal circumstances of a member of the Board.

“We would, however, wish to voice our support for anyone who is suffering from or is affected by mental health difficulties, and would hope that whatever the individual’s personal, social or employment circumstances, help and support can be sought without fear of shame or embarrassment, and that mental health can be discussed in public in a reasonable and informed manner.”

The following report appeared in The Dumbarton Democrat during the summer recess in July following the failed management shake-up attempt to put matters right at the Council:

Council officers Malcolm Bennie, communications boss placed in charge of bins; Raymond Walsh, moved from head of roads, and Ronnie Dinnie, early retirement.

By Bill Heaney in July this year

West Dunbartonshire Council’s announcement of a big shake-up of the roles and titles of their management team has caused a stir and led to anger and confusion amongst ordinary council staff members.

And left many people scratching their heads and wondering how the reduced management of a basket case council which has been passing itself off as efficient when its management code of conduct and contract procurement rules have been ignored for years can cope with more work in areas where they have no experience.

For example, how can Malcolm Bennie, the current director of communications and marketing, be expected to take charge bin collections, street sweeping and so on if he has no experience of same.

And why has the name of Raymond Walsh, the director of roads, dropped out of the management team and been replaced by someone from Inverclyde Council on a salary of £80,000 a year?

No one at the Council nor any member of the SNP administration will explain this to us since The Democrat is banned and boycotted by both.

This is despite the fact that they jettisoned custom and practice in the way they deal with the media without moving anything formally to support that at a full council meeting.

Social media has been hopping with a debate on this since yesterday when The Democrat revealed exclusively that the shake-up had happened.

Community worker Danielle Donnachie asked: “Can anyone tell me if WDC has now officially got a shared service [policy] in place?

“I know at one of the meetings I had attended there was a mention of shared services with Inverclyde, East Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute councils for roads and recycling services.

“I hope this is not the case. Shared services is used by ‘businesses’ to supposedly streamline their services.

“In fact it has the complete opposite effect and ends up costing more time and money.”

Anna McLeod replied: “Roads are now joint service with Inverclyde.”

And Harry McCormack added: “That is correct but we don’t have shared services with the workforce or anything else.

“I really don’t know what she [the new roads boss from Inverclyde] does.

“Our goal was that our workforce didn’t want to share services with Inverclyde.

“That is what we got and just to let some people know we as the joint trade unions would not and could not sign up to anything without out members’ agreement.”

He added: “We couldn’t understand why the council were going to employ someone on £80.000 plus a year to do what?”

Mr McCormack said there had been talks between the trade unions and the management about shared services but nothing had been agreed and would never be agreed until this was put to the workforce for a vote.

This was to have been done by Ronnie Dinnie, Strategic Lead for Environment and Neighbourhood Services, who became ill has retired from the Council.

Harry McCormack says said the other council managers involved in that were Angela Wilson, Victoria Rodgers Ronnie Dinnie and a lawyer along with Cllr Jonathon McColl, the council leader.

He said: “[There were to be] no shared services without the workforce agreement and that is the facts from that meeting. [It was agreed] Ronnie Dinnie would address the workforce [but] that never happened.”

However, Sean McFall disagreed – “Surely if shared services were the most efficient way to go then that’s what should happen regardless of what the workforce thought?

“Shoddy work and delays have long been the hallmark of WDC’s Roads department, so could shared services really be any worse?”

Mr McCormack replied: “The roads department was only to be first [to be shared].

“All services were to be up for shared services. This is Scottish government pushing for this.

“We were told by the council leader if we didn’t want it now that the government will do it their way before the next election, just like the police and fire service.”

Danielle Donnachie said: “[This is] the next step to privatisation. Everyone should be against this. It’s not a good thing. The title transformation smells like a restructure.

“As most people know, restructuring is generally getting rid of low level staff whilst finding ‘new’ jobs for senior management, whilst the rest that remain need to pick up the work of those made redundant.

“Most work places are top heavy with management! In a lot of cases [there are] too many chiefs. And, in the case of roads, most of the work there is done by contractors.”

The following letter to the editor was posted here when the management re-shuffle was announced:

Dear Editor,

If you look closer at the major changes introduced to the WDC senior management team by Mrs White, the CEO, none of which were approved by the Council, Committee or Sub Committee of WDC, it puts the CEO in an almost “presidential” position gathering more power and control to the centre and becoming less inclusive.

It appears the directors Mrs Wilson and Mr Cairns are the two big losers as their responsibility for various Strategic Leads and whole departments have been culled and will now answer directly to the CEO.

Mr Dinnie, who retired recently,  headed up the Environment & Neighbourhood section which no longer appears on the management chart.

It also appears that the Roads section will no longer be directly under the remit of Mr Walsh as this section will be the responsibility of the officer jointly funded by WDC & Inverclyde Council under the shared services scheme which has never been agreed in any detail by the Council.

Major changes sneaked out in the summer recess are always a worry. Only time will tell if they will be successful, my own view is they will not and at least one of the main players will be toast in the not too distant future.

Cllr Jim Bollan, Community Party

It became obvious from her performance at council meetings that Joyce White was coming to the end of her tether. She tried time and again to shut Cllr Bollan down. Eventually it was revealed that she had reported him to the Standards Commission for Public Life in Scotland. Large numbers of people have expressed the opinion that Cllr Bollan is the victim of a witch hunt.

Councillors’ Code of Conduct


The Scottish Parliament approved one Code of Conduct which is applied to every Scottish councillor. The Councillors’ Code of Conduct applies to all 1227 councillors elected to the 32 Local Authority areas within Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament demonstrated its commitment to the promotion of high standards in public life by passing the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000 as one of its earliest statutes.  The Act introduced an ethical framework which required Scottish Ministers to issue a Code of Conduct for Councillors and a Model Code of Conduct for members of the devolved public bodies listed in schedule 3 of the Act.

The original Councillors’ Code of Conduct came into force in May 2003.  During 2009 the Scottish Government undertook a limited review of the Code of Conduct  to address two key areas:

  • the implications for the Code of the legislative reform of the Scottish Planning System, which came into effect during 2009; and
  • to review those areas of the Code which would benefit from clarification or reconsideration, drawing on experience gained in its application.

To assist with this work the Scottish Government set up a review group whose members included the Standards Commission and representatives of Scottish local government.  A public consultation was then carried out on a revised Code of Conduct.

The Revised Councillors’ Code of Conduct

The Code of Conduct was then revised to reflect legislative changes relating to the planning regime and in light of experience gained in its first years of operation.  The Revised Code of Conduct came into force on 21 December 2010.  The Revised Councillors’ Code of Conduct was further amended in July 2018 and a new version came into force on 9 July 2018.  The Councillors’ Code of Conduct can be accessed by clicking on the link below.

The Councillors’ Code of Conduct continues to play a vital role in setting out, openly and clearly, the standards councillors must apply when undertaking their Council duties.  It is vital that the Code continues to give assurance to the public that their elected members are acting in accordance with high ethical standards.

The Standards Commission publishes guidance for councillors on how to interpret the provisions within the Code of Conduct.  For more information and to access the Guidance, please click on ‘Guidance’ in the Menu above.


Councillors’ Code of Conduct 2018

9th July 2018

Download PDF

Councillors’ Code of Conduct (2010)

1st December 2010

Download PDF


One comment

  1. Bill,
    You are right to make the connection about the lack of money available to WDC for vital services and the recent corruption that was uncovered. Whilst the biggest loss to the Council funding is the cuts from the Tory Government the near 10 years of corruption by senior council officers played a role in this shortage of cash as well. Audit Scotland in their report to WDC on 14.5.2019 indicated the loss to WDC was “incalculable” due to the procurement rules being broken, a practice Mrs White was aware of but chose to look the other way.

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