The SNP administration’s propaganda department at West Dunbartonshire Council moved into full throttle when it announced this week that every primary school pupil in West Dunbartonshire will be offered free school meals as part of a ‘no cuts’ budget approved by councillors on Wednesday.

But the spin doctors made no mention of the fact that two dozen jobs will go through so-called management adjustments – cuts by another name – as the SNP wielded the axe yet again on threatened public services projects.

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The list of cuts included in the “No Cuts” budget by the SNP who appear to think we are all daft. How can the Council reduce the leadership support team;  “restructure the Arts and Heritage section; reduce the roads repair workforce and all these other services listed in this table of “management adjustments” which are cuts by another name.

Cllr Jonathan McColl and the SNP members, held up by the maverick  “Independent” Dennis Agnew, didn’t say when this new meals measure would be introduced, which is not likely to happen for another two years. That will be after the next local government elections.

The Nationalists appear to be secretly filling an election war chest by holding back money  which will allow them to introduce new “sexy” projects before the community goes to the polls in May 2021.

The Council’s website said: “Every primary school pupil in West Dunbartonshire will be offered free school meals as part of a ‘no cuts’ budget approved by councillors .”

Cllr McColl, who accused Labour of submitting a “smoke and mirrors” budget indulged in more than a modicum of exaggeration himself when he said: “This major expansion, which will save local families hundreds of pounds per year, will be phased in at schools across the area over the next two years. The £950,000 investment in 2020/21 will be partially funded by a rise in Council Tax of 4.84%.”

He said the measure,  which will be especially welcomed amongst West Dunbartonshire’s deprived community’s poverty stricken food bank users. is included within the 2020/21 Council budget. However, the free meals project could end up being served cold.

People who attended the Budget meeting in Dumbarton on Wednesday refused to believe for a moment  the Council’s “No Cuts” line.

The SNP announcement said £8 million will be invested in pot-holed roads and cracked pavements, which proliferate here; £1.85 million to take struggling  people off the dole and £250,000 will be set aside to fund additional learning assistants in schools, where education standards and results are plummeting.

One school, St Martin’s PS in Renton, is closing its doors altogether – with the support of the Catholic Church.

The SNP  claim their commitments follow the budget survey in autumn 2019 which showed  unsurprisingly that failing education and some dangerous and almost impassable roads were among residents’ top priorities for Council spending.

They maintain that their financial plan protects frontline Council services “as much as possible”, and commits additional funding to support initiatives assisting some of the poorest and most vulnerable residents in West Dunbartonshire – and there are many –  although there are no details of what these are.

In addition, they announced that over £70 million will be invested in the struggling, recently introduced Health and Social Care Partnership to protect and enhance the currently ailing Home Care and Social Work.

The Independent Resource Centre – few people know what that is – will receive £249,000, including a £144,000 contingency fund to maintain its service over the next two years;  £50,000 will go to community drug project Alternatives to support the Safe as Houses initiative and £60,000 has been set aside for the Challenging and Responding to Abuse (CARA) project to support those affected by abuse.

A new £382,000 NetZero Carbon Fund has been created to fund initiatives that will improve the environment in West Dunbartonshire by generating clean energy or reducing energy consumption/CO2 emissions.

Cash strapped Council says new money has been allocated to pay a full-time bio-diversity officer, a cause that appears to be an obsession with Cllr Iain McLaren.

In addition a new Biodiversity post will be introduced for the area to enhance the environment in West Dunbartonshire, which means that “plants before people” , one of SNP Cllr Cllr Iain McLaren’s pet projects, is being given priority over many other cash-starved initiatives which badly need the money.

Councillor Ian Dickson, Convener of Corporate Services, said: “For the second year, we have adopted a no cuts budget in West Dunbartonshire, investing in key areas and supporting our residents without detriment to our frontline services.

“Our residents told us through the budget survey that they wanted education to be prioritised and we have responded to that with a commitment to provide free school meals in all of our primary schools, an increase in funding for extra learning assistants, and a pledge to continue to invest in our schools.

“We want a fairer future for all, especially our most vulnerable, and that’s why we’ve increased investment in the HSCP and also dedicated new funding to support initiatives in our community which assist those in recovery, experiencing financial difficulties or who have endured abuse.

”As a Council, we are working hard to make West Dunbartonshire an even better place to live, work and visit and this budget further supports that.”

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Inflation busting increases in West Dunbartonshire.  Picture credit Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter.

Council leader McColl claimed: “Significant progress has been made over the last year to enhance our communities and support our residents. We have completed the infrastructure for a new district heating network [currently £5 million overspent] which will reduce fuel poverty in our area, we’ve started work on a new education campus, we’re nearing completion of a second new care home and we’ve improved key road routes.

“In the year ahead, we will progress further still, supporting citizens of all ages with increased early years provision, investment to raise attainment and further improve our school estate, support for initiatives offering learning and training, funding to create a greener West Dunbartonshire  assistance for projects to help our most vulnerable and additional funding for our Health and Social Care Partnership.

“To balance the budget the Council will progress with a number of sensible efficiencies such as being more efficient in how we deliver services to reflect how we meet the needs of the public. The Council will also be disposing of surplus land and buildings to generate funds to support ongoing investment.”

  • For “disposing of” please read selling publicly owned land, most probably to developers for private housing projects. And don’t forget the £6 million that is being “loaned” to mega rich Exonn to clean up land at Bowling which may never belong to the Council.

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