A bridge too far. Council agreed to share services with Inverclyde, where care workers’ were paid £3 an hour
Bill Heaney, Jonathan McColl, Donald Macaskill, Margaret Wood, Val Jennings and a care worker and client. Virus artwork by Gemma Woods Fraser.
NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
Well you may wonder why West Dunbartonshire Council and the SNP have banned and boycotted The Dumbarton Democrat, especially since this digital news platform is one of the few ways left for their £500,000 a year communications department to keep the local public informed of the decisions being made in their name.
Local newspapers are in a critical condition, fit only for the intensive care unit. Many of them have already closed – the Lennox Herald, Helensburgh Advertiser and Reporter have shut their local offices – and the Scottish government and local government have no one but themselves to blame.
Why do I believe this is true?
Because I personally pointed out at a meeting in Glasgow where the then Enterprise Minister, Jim Mather, promised to address the fact that newspapers were haemorrhaging revenue because councils and the government itself were ignoring them when it came to advertising public notices and the like.
The then First Minister Alex Salmond and Jim Mather did precisely nothing about it.
Labour doesn’t get off the hook here. They actively encouraged the policy of switching public advertisements from newspapers to the internet.
Local newspapers are reaping the dark harvest of those decisions. Some of my journalist colleagues have been placed on “furlough” and being forced into accepting wage cuts by tight-fisted multi-national moguls.
And what is being produced by them on their websites is a pale imitation of what newspapers were before this lockdown – and not a patch on 20 years ago when local people owned local newspapers. They were then viewed as the concrete which held local communities together.
These papers were then bought up by big publishers, who looked at their large profits and declared them milch cows.
The millionaires and their accountants moved in and made cuts which have taken them to where they are today. Death’s door.
Like so many other businesses, newspapers are struggling badly and the cream the shareholders once skimmed off the top of that milk has turned sour.
In my lifetime, I have edited a number of newspapers and magazines, including Dumbarton’s two local newspapers.
I enjoyed nothing better, especially when it came to holding government to account and speaking truth to power.
However, the SNP council have refused to give me media accreditation and banned and boycotted The Democrat. The two local MP’s have joined them in this.
The council’s modus operandum is censorship and spin. It’s as if they have never heard of freedom or the press or tipped their hat to democracy.
We feel obliged here in the spirit of press freedom to keep giving them the oxygen of publicity however, good and bad, and for that they have smeared us with lies, and continue to do that.
They would love it if we said everything they were doing in relation to the coronavirus crisis was going smoothly and that the public, in whose name and at whose expense, they are doing it, were content with their performance in that regard.
However, they are not. Asked about their performance in this pandemic, one man in the street responded: “Failed on every count. Lack of PPE, deaths in care homes, the brutal cancellation of care packages to the vulnerable. No wonder they’re keeping the head down and refusing to speak. No doubt their £500,000 a year communication department is still getting paid. And the restriction on freedom of information requests. That tells you that the Council have a lot to hide. No doubt a decision made on legal advice. One thing for sure, when the great leaders eventually emerge from the bunker, nobody will believe a word they say.”
Cllr Jonathan McColl is no “great leader,” but it appears that the person who is supposed to be leading the SNP council has taken to hiding in that bunker. This is an extension to McColl and his colleagues heading their heads in the sand.”
The homecare, residential and nursing care workers’ scandalous situation in this pandemic is widespread – one them tragically, Catherine Sweeney, a Dumbarton woman was among the first to die of Covid-19.
McColl and his cronies have a sin to answer for, but they are saying nothing. Their motto, after mediocrity, is “whatever you say, say nothing”.
If the SNP government is to blame for what happened by their failure to prepare themselves properly for the pandemic, which was known about many weeks before it struck, then it is also the SNP council’s responsibility for going along with the austerity policies imposed on them from above. It was their decision to make.
One of the worst places for being a care worker was Greenock – and probably still is.
And that’s why the trade unions suggested that a new policy of going into partnership with, and sharing services with Inverclyde Council, was unwelcome.
West Dunbartonshire had been looking at linking roads and refuse collection services to name but two which were earmarked for mergers with the Greenock-based council.
And that this plan could soon be extended to other services such as health and social care. And maybe even a full merger of the two councils.
The Greenock Telegraph had highlighted the fact that care workers across the river were being ripped off by private companies providing care for the elderly.
These care workers, employed by the private companies contracted by Inverclyde, revealed they were being paid as little as £3 an hour and had accused the council of ‘turning a blind eye’ to their plight.
West Dunbartonshire should have known about this before throwing their lot in with them. Was there ever any due diligence done before this happened? Why did they look the other way?
WDC failed to pick up on a series of shock claims from staff employed by the external care providers. The care workers claimed they end up earning less than the national living wage because of ‘unfair working practices’. Did WDC simply decide to ignore what was happening at the Tail o’ the Bank?
Many care workers there are not paid travel time between visits to old and vulnerable people. Fuel costs are not reimbursed and care workers have to pay for their own mobile phones, which they need to do their job. Some of them are put on standby without pay.
Unlike the roads bosses at WDC who earned thousands for this to which they were not entitled have never paid back.
Care workers in Greenock are so desperate to earn enough to look after their families that they squeeze in as many visits as possible, spending as little as just five minutes with some vulnerable clients.
Although Inverclyde’s health and social care partnership (HSCP) has signed up to an ethical charter promising to deliver on fair working practices, carers say they are ignoring the behaviour of contractors.
These practises were brought to the attention of the trade unions representing care workers in West Dunbartonshire by UNITE convener, Margaret Wood, and her UNISON colleague Val Jennings.
One carer, who works with one of external providers operating in Greenock, said: “Inverclyde Council is aware of what is going on and is turning a blind eye. We get paid £8.75 per hour if we manage four 15-minute visits an hour. But that is impossible.
“If we only manage two visits within that hour, which is common, we only get paid for thirty minutes, not an hour, because we do not get paid for the travel time between visits.
“This means we only get paid £4.37 per hour, for an eight hour shift. We pay our own travel costs, which average £10 per day in fuel alone. By the end of the day we are earning just £3.12 per hour. We also need to pay for and use our own phones which is how we get the work.”
Inverclyde Council sets out a minimum visit time of 15 minutes, but there are questions about how this is fulfilled.
One care worker said: “Their own staff do the same number of visits as us but get paid travelling time and costs, so earn the full rate. To manage even three 15 minute visits, we would have to break the rules and cut visits down to a flying five-minute visit – which sometimes we do, and clients aren’t getting the care they need.”
Terms and conditions have also been highlighted as a problem.
The whistle-blower added: “Even though they say you are on a permanent contract, what you actually are is permanently on standby, waiting for clients.
“This is the equivalent of a zero-hour contract. The council know all about it and are turning a blind eye.”
Another care worker says that staff are allocated a huge number of clients and only given a ‘very short’ space of time to deal with their often complex needs.
Scottish Care, which represents private care providers, launched a blistering attack on Inverclyde Council and said the local authority has effectively forced its members to keep current practices in place.
Chief executive Dr Donald Macaskill said: “We believe that you cannot have fair work unless you have fair commissioning.
“The recent work of the Fair Work Convention highlights that the way in which we purchase and buy care is rotten to the core.”
“Commissioning contracts or the tendering process is at the heart of West Dunbartonshire Council’s troubles concerning the procurement process in regard to the allocation of contracts.”
What Dr Macaskill is talking about here is procurement, the negotiation of contracts.
Procurement is a dirty word at West Dunbartonshire Council. It conjures up visions of golf outings, fine dining, T-bone steaks, delicious fish dishes (double helpings), Rioja (Spanish wine) and champagne and taxis home afterwards if you feel a little queasy.
WDC refuses to answer questions from The Democrat because we publish stories like this one, which hold them to account. That’s the last thing they want.
If the SNP government are to blame for what happened by their failure to prepare themselves properly for the pandemic, which was known about many weeks before it struck, then it is also the SNP council’s responsibility for going along with the austerity policies imposed on them from above.
A letter from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stating that budget cuts was read out at a meeting in the old council offices at Garshake before they were demolished.
Cllr Jonathan McColl accused Cllr David McBride of being a liar and in the manner of Donald Trump suggested the letter was a fake. He had to apologise publicly for this.
What we would like to know is did the SNP budget cuts and austerity policies result in no cash being allocated for PPE and other kit to prepare for the pandemic?
Was that money laid aside for spending on other far less important things such as £35,000 wages for a gardener to assist in the creation of an overgrown piece of land on the Clydeshore?
This is Havoc Meadow which has been adopted by a group of environmental luvvies, led by a senior SNP councillor, Iain McLaren, who appears to be obsessed with environmental matters?
We would like to put that question – and others – to the council leader, but we don’t know where the Tartan Pimpernel is right now and he wouldn’t speak to us anyway.
- Having heard what I have heard, seen what I have seen and written what I have written, I am becoming more and more convinced that the Care Home sector should be nationalised under the NHS and we should stop filling the boots of the moguls and multi-nationals who are becoming very rich while ripping off residents and their relatives and trousering unacceptably high fees for unacceptably poor services, like that lot in Skye. Editor