BILL HEANEY’S NOTEBOOK COLUMN
Who is going to lead West Dunbartonshire Council’s SNP administration into this year’s budget discussion, consultations and confrontations?
There is speculation that Cllr Jonathan McColl will not be in the chair until the matter of his (mental) health is cleared up.
SNP insiders say that Cllr Caroline McAllister is lined up to take over if Cllr McColl calls off, even temporarily.
They are checking whether there is anything within local government regulations for local authorities that excludes people suffering from serious mental illness, which may limit their ability to function fully, should stand down until they receive clearance from the medics.
Should he, or should not, Cllr McColl have declared that he was seriously ill to the Council before disclosing this in an interview with the Lennox Herald?
Large numbers of members of the public were of the opinion that these questions should be answered (quickly) by those in authority.
We asked the Council and the Scottish Government about these protocols, and we are still waiting to hear back from them.
Cllr McColl told reporter Jenny Foulds in a Mental Health Week interview that he was ill before he was elected to the Council – or even taking up his leadership which has seen a number of controversial and confusing decisions in his time.
The leadership involves huge responsibility for £ millions of taxpayers’ money and a heavy workload.
Not to mention the stress that accompanies the day and daily disagreements and fraught discussion over whether to continue down the road of austerity and continue to impose cuts in essential services.
Or to take the word of SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon who told a local elector in the last financial year that there was no requirement for further cuts.
Cllr McColl caused fury when he accused the Labour opposition of lying over this and had to make a public apology to Cllr McBride in the council chambers.
Since then the public have from time to time been locked out of meetings and the press have been sanctioned for asking to have a proper press bench and to have the sound system adjusted so that they can hear the debates.
Add these things now to the fact that taxpayers have recently been raising concerns about the budget process this year, which has been set back months by the disruption brought about by the General Election in December.
The Chartered institute of Taxation (CIOT) has also expressed concern that the 11 March 2020 Budget date will leave MSPs in Scotland with just a few days to react to changes made at Westminster.
They will be expected to agree what the rates and bands of Scottish income tax will be in place ahead of the start of the new tax year in April.11.
Community Party councillor Jim Bollan told social media: “This will affect the Council’s ability to set the Council Tax and budget for 2020/2021.
“Without knowing the detailed settlement figure you would be setting these rates in the dark with limited information.”
Susan O’Neill said she thought there might have been more information out there on what was happening since that could have “such a detrimental effect on our services here”.
Cllr Bollan said there was talk of new legislation having to be brought in in to deal with budgets at every level of government, Westminster, Holyrood and local.
Trades Council representative, Thomas Morrison, said West Dunbartonshire does not exist in a vacuum and other communities are facing the exact same situation – cuts in services.
Cllrs Caroline McAllister, Jim Bollan and Jonathan McColl.
On the back of this, the trade unions had tried, with some success, to build links with other areas.
The STUC was organising a major conference scheduled in February 2020 to bring together communities and unions based on a successful motion from Clydebank TUC for a national campaign against austerity.
Another union person, Iain Ellis, said he was hoping that now the general election was over, social media sites used by council employees, such as this one, might get back on track and start looking at local issues.
He added: “Yet here we are talking about the Labour Party who are finished in my country and who knows when they’ll be back if ever, and when will the SNP go for independence again?
“And while all this is happening, what is our administration doing, my guess would be to get things through while you’re all debating National issues.
“We need to use this site to keep the pressure on our useless administration and hold them to task.
“Where’s all the support gone for Jim Bollan [who has been reported by the CEO for being disrespectful to her and other council officers] must be soon.
“We can’t afford to lose our best councillor, who was only doing what he was elected for, asking questions and holding the administration and chief executive to account.”