Bill Heaney, Martin Rooney, Joyce White and Jim Bollan.
BILL HEANEY’S NOTEBOOK COLUMN
The Labour Group on West Dunbartonshire Council. I was beginning to forget we had one.
As for the Tories, they don’t really count – and there are only two of them anyway.
And then there is the lone Independent. Well, a so-called Independent, whose vote keeps the SNP administration in power.
This is something Bailie Denis Agnew has been handsomely rewarded for with a gold chain of office. And not just a few pieces of silver.
He receives a special rate for the part-time job he does and cups of tea and coffee, where none was supposed to be bought with council taxpayers’ money.
This was a quickly abandoned publicity-grabbing gesture towards austerity, which the the SNP followed slavishly and relished making. We would all be independent, but skint while we were at it.
How would an independent Scotland have coped with coronavirus when we witness how badly our devolved government and local government have failed to cope?
However, Denis not only brings his own beverage into the council chamber, he often does his tea boy for the SNP women who sit near him.
It’s good to know that unlike council taxpayers these women get something out of the meetings.
And then we have the Community Party’s Jim Bollan who, for years, has been a thistle up the kilt of the SNP and the Council management, Chief Executive Officer Joyce White in particular. Her anxiety is palpable every time Cllr Bollan stands up to speak.
And why is it then that they hate Councillor Bollan?
It’s jealousy, of course. Jealousy because he makes them look so inadequate at what they do – or don’t do.
Mediocrity has taken over from community as the slogan on the Council’s coat of arms.
There’s more to being a CEO than deciding who can and who can’t have a glass of water, Mrs White.
When you are being paid around £150,000 a year from the public purse, one would expect you had learned to delegate. And to have some manners.
Or at least not to be so rude.
Then we have the Labour Group leader, Martin Rooney. Mr Reasonable. Mr Numbers. You can’t fault his application to work, but his performance on his feet is dire.
When you come up against an opposition as weak at the SNP Group in West Dunbartonshire, it would be reasonable to expect you would score a good few political points against them. Or maybe even wipe the floor with them.
Not so, I am afraid, but then most of the SNP’s gaffs are own goals.
Martin is an old Army man, so he should know the value of intelligence about the enemy; of knowing what’s happening on your patch and what your opponents are up to.
However, Cllr Rooney hadn’t a clue what was going on at the Crosslet House care home, where so many of the residents died after contracting coronavirus.
Despite the fact that he asked the Chief Executive, who turned a deaf ear to Labour Group questions at a virtual meeting.
The virus outbreak at Crosslet was last week described in the Scottish Parliament as “utterly shameful and completely unacceptable” by health secretary Jeane Freeman. It was.
Now, Cllr Rooney and members of West Dunbartonshire’s Labour group also claim the local authority, which they are supposed to be holding to account, has not been open enough on the extent of the coronavirus deaths situation.
What planet is Cllr Rooney living on? He must surely know that openness, honesty and transparency are nowhere to be found near the council’s £17 million headquarters in Church Street.
The Labour Group have been ineffective in challenging the austerity imposed by the SNP in West Dunbartonshire over the past two years.
If Jackie Baillie, the MSP for Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond didn’t speak out as much as she does both as MSP and Deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party we would hardly know we had a Labour presence in West Dunbartonshire.
Ms Baillie who is almost certain to be leading Labour in Scotland into the various upcoming elections has a mammoth task on her hands to inject some new life into the Labour Party in Scotland.
Some of our local councillors are as much good as playing a man short.
They have watched the Council SNP administration spit in the eye of democracy by imposing censorship in regard to the reporting of council matters.
Someone should tell them that the reason we have local authorities is that council taxpayers and their elected representatives are entitled to an input into policy making and decisions.
And that journalists who hold them to account are doing no more than their job, where Freedom of the Press is a given in places such as Russia and China.
The Council should be facilitating coverage of local government affairs, not obstructing journalists going about their business.
They should be open, honest and transparent, especially since if they have nothing to hide they have nothing to fear.
They should be on top of what is happening in their area, which includes what is happening in care homes.
And when they find out things that are wrong – like the non-existent procurement rules which led to an estimated loss of £ millions for the council and inestimable reputational damage with T-bone steaks, champagne, monkfish and Spanish rioja – they should be shouting it from the rooftops.
Cllr Rooney and his Labour colleagues didn’t do that. Maybe they didn’t want to upset Joyce White, who had reported Cllr Bollan to the Commission for Standards in Public Life for his (justifiably) strident criticism of the procurement scandal.
Dedicated healthcare staff who are dealing with the crisis.
At last he is openly backing UNISON, the local government trade union, who have revealed the staff at Crosslet House care home are “scared” for residents and colleagues. They fear taking the virus home to their families.
Officials at the union are calling on the Council to reveal how many residents have died at its care homes.
They said: “Unison members have fed back that they are scared for residents and their families, colleagues and of contracting the virus or taking it home to their families.
“Members feel the government was too slow to act and are unhappy that guidance and personal protective equipment (PPE) came too late.”
Figures released by National Records of Scotland last week revealed there had been a total of 26 deaths in care homes across West Dunbartonshire.
But Cllr Martin Rooney said the full extent of the impact of coronavirus is still unknown.
He told the Lennox Herald he only found out residents had died there through social media.
And this was only a day after speaking to chief executive Joyce White to find out the full extent of the situation. That is disgraceful.
He then gave a mini-lecture on the value of good communication when it comes to retaining the confidence of worried families was by being open and sharing the facts.
Cllr Rooney told the Lennox Herald: “The sharing of information about the spread of the infection has not been as good as it could have been.”
He revealed that the Labour Group had held a virtual meeting, which the Chief Executive joined in – “We raised a number of Covid issues relating to other care homes, but the first we heard about the Covid deaths in Crosslet was when we saw them reported on social media the next day.
“We still don’t have figures for all the individual care homes and sheltered housing facilities of those testing positive or even the number of deaths in each residential setting.
“We need greater transparency so that carers, families and our communities are informed of the challenges we face so that they can understand the rationale for the council’s actions and responses and most importantly we maintain public trust.”
It would help to achieve this if the Council passed information on to The Dumbarton Democrat, the 21st century digital platform which provides news and features to the community in West Dunbartonshire and which only last week had more than 6,000 hits in a single day.