NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
From the moment I walked into a meeting of the Health and Social Care Partnership at West Dunbartonshire Council, I knew something was badly wrong there.
I wrote at the time that I couldn’t make head nor tail of what was going on and it appeared from the stilted answers to questions and puzzled looks on the faces of those present, neither did they.
I don’t think that at that time the members were on top of things since there seemed to be some doubt about who the chairperson was.
One report of a meeting connected with their affairs this week tends to make me think I was right not to waste my time there and so I left, scratching my head.
What had happened seemed to be confirmation of my previous dealings with this partnership, which were far from satisfactory.
The report in question reveals that Health and social care services in West Dunbartonshire have been given £3.5million more cash from the Scottish Government than they needed for Covid-related costs.
These excess funds which have been allocated at a time of begging bowl politics at the council will now be put into an earmarked reserve to cover “legacy” costs associated with the pandemic into the next financial year.
Board member Rona Sweeney said that being in credit “doesn’t look good” at a time of crisis. And it doesn’t. Who ever heard of getting too much money from the government in this day and age?
Ms Sweeney was responding to the HSCP’s chief financial officer, Julie Slavin’s update on the partnership’s funds.
Ms Slavin is quoted as saying: “I am pleased to say as of February 5, the Scottish Government released significant amounts of funding to all health boards and integrated joint boards and a variety of different funds related to Covid. We have received just over £11 million in funding from the Scottish Government, all Covid related.”
Rona Sweeney added: “It’s good that the government have given all the expenditure and taken account of the fact that savings can be made but I have a bit of a worry that it doesn’t look very good for residents.
“As a citizen we would be thinking why weren’t they spending that money? At a time of crisis we have got this unexpected underspend.”
Ms Sweeney is correct. Dead right, in fact.
Ms Slavin said that there had been some savings during the pandemic due to issues, including ones around staffing.
This is despite the fact that social care services are crying out for more staff
“There have been savings through some services. There has been a significant element around staff in terms of vacancies.
“People still retire and still move on within a pandemic but there has been a lot more difficulty to try and recruit in certain areas.
“I think it’s something as we settle down into the next financial year that we probably welcome having longer discussions about this and how this might look and how we might start allocating some of these earmarked reserves.”
Chair of the HSCP, the unelected accountant, Allan MacLeod, pictured left, stressed that the excess funds would be helpful for the financial year going forward after Ms Slavin acknowledged that there would be “legacy costs” relating to Covid-19 well into the 2021/22 budget.
The chair added: “It’s almost as if we are receiving advanced payments. It does give us the potential for looking at how we might look to reimburse and develop services as we go forward.”
Someone should tell this committee that this is exactly what they are there for. They’re not there just to be bean counters.
The excess of £3.517m will be placed in an earmarked reserve. The sooner they spend it on improving services and recruiting staff the better for the public whom they are there to serve.
Something that concerns me greatly about the Health and Social Care Committee is the fact that there appears to be very little democracy attached to what they do.
But then what’s new about that?
The balance of lay people and councillors on this committee is all wrong. There are too many lay people o it and the input from elected members – how many are there? – appears to be minimal.
There will be no council tax increase in West Dunbartonshire this year. I haven’t seen any convincing explanation why the SNP administration will not be charging us more for less, which is what they usually do. It seems clear there is one reason and one reason only. And that is that there will be a Scottish Parliament election in eight weeks’ time and Cllr Jonathan McColl doesn’t want to upset the voters. He has, after all, upset them more than enough already with his madcap schemes and austerity policies.