A TOWN CALLED MALICE: WHERE COUNCILLORS AND OFFICIALS HAVEN’T A CLUE WHAT TO DO WITH £22 MILLION

NOTEBOOK 

Given a blank sheet of paper and a £22 million handout from Boris Johnston’s Tory government’s “levelling up” fund, you would think that West Dunbartonshire’s SNP administration and highly paid officials would bite your hand off to get a shot at designing it, writes BILL HEANEY

Sadly, however, the basket case SNP administration and the £100,000 a year plus team of suits and skirts haven’t a clue about what it should look like, and they are poised to pay a consultant £70,000 to explore ideas for the much maligned Artizan Centre, off the High Street. Nice work if you can get it.

West Dunbartonshire councillors on the tendering committee were asked to approve the awarding of the contract at a meeting last week.

Whether they did or not is an important  matter of public concern, but we don’t have the details.

The Council, as we have told you many times, don’t speak to us. They treat us much like Nicola Sturgeon says the Westminster government treats all Scots – like shit on their shoe.

In November, the Council negotiated a £1.7 million deal to buy the Artizan Centre and replace it with  a more shopper friendly complex.

How to do that they haven’t a scooby.  Officers are said to be  looking at potential development opportunities for the centre, which will be demolished.

Their spin doctors are telling us it’s being paid for by the Scottish Government’s Levelling Up Fund, which is a lie. The Leveling Up Fund is a Tory idea into which Westminster has ploughed £ millions to revive areas of deprivation – of which West Dunbartonshire is one of the worst in the country.

Council officials are said to be studying how the site can be enhanced to introduce better links into it and encourage increased footfall – more people to use it – and future investment in shops and other businesses on the High Street.

Despite their pretend policy of “shop local”, the SNP administration put the awarding of a three-month contract for a consultant for the Artizan Centre redevelopment masterplan out to tender in London and elsewhere. 

They say six bids were received, with Fourth Street Place Consultants Ltd, being the most “economically advantageous”. In other words they chose the cheapest, who quite possibly have heard of Dumbarton for the first time in their life.

If this has been agreed by councillors, the London-based firm will be paid £68,196 ex VAT, with the contract beginning in February. I don’t expect much of that will be spent at lunchtime in Greggs or on petrol from Morrisons.

A report which will be considered by members, reads: “The purpose of the tender was to identify and appoint a suitably qualified and experienced consultant with appropriate urban design and planning, community engagement and commercial experience to deliver development options for the site of the largely vacant Artizan Shopping Centre in Dumbarton.

“The budget of £68,196 is to be funded from the awarded Scottish Government Levelling Up Fund.

I suppose if you are going to lie, the strategy is to keep repeating the deception until people believe you. Or you believe it yourself.

Officials say the firm has pledged to provide volunteers to support a local community project, give support for local third sector organisations and facilitate quarterly work experience opportunities. The cost comes under the £100,000 budget identified for the work.

It’s a pittance. Volunteers for any kind of work these days are hard to come by and this kind of strategy too often involves people being asked to work for nothing.

The council has received £20 million from the Tory fund which will also be used towards the development of Glencairn House as a museum and library, and into the creation of more than 5km of cycle and active travel improvements that link the town centre with Dumbarton Central Station.

That’s already been done when they painted the bottom of College Street red and a multitude of other colours, which they claim will make Dumbarton Central Station more accessible.

I am afraid this amounts to more pie in the sky being foisted on council taxpayers.

This will be this year when household costs, including the council tax, are set to rise to eye-watering levels which will exacerbate the poverty and deprivation West Dunbartonshire will be forced to live with if they continue to vote the wrong people into power.

Oh, and yet another masterstroke by our basket case council. They have appointed two Clydebank councillors to head the planning committee which will take charge of the Town Centre project along with Valeman Jonathan McColl, who relishes making cuts to public services.

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Mrs Willox and the care home named after her at Willox Park in Barloan, Dumbarton.

Nanny Willox would turn in her grave.  Dunbartonshire’s Lady Bountiful, who did so much for the community, gave a parcel of land at Barloan to Dumbarton Town Council in the middle of last century to build a complex of safe homes and care home for senior citizens.

It was a futuristic development supported by councillors and officials with vision.

Most of these councillors were volunteers who took their roles seriously and managed to lift the stigma which families suffered at that time for having their elderly relatives placed in Townend Hospital, which was formerly known as the poor house.

There is no way that Townend was a poor house literally. It was an old hospital which needed some TLC to make it comfortable, but as a building it was way past its sell-by date.

The then Town Council, made up of Labour and Independent Moderates, stepped in with a plan to replace it, which they did with a welcome complex of small homes for the elderly and a care home.

Ask anyone in the street right now what Dumbarton in particular and Scotland in general needs most and more care homes would be high on their list.

So, what is our basket case council in West Dunbartonshire doing about this?

They are in the process of demolishing Willox Park, the home at the moment and most probably the houses there in time.

At the same time, the Council have sold off Langcraigs Home in Townend Road to the private sector for a cut price, which was foisted on the council by the SNP administration.

The contract for the demolition of Willox Park has gone to to George Beattie & Sons Ltd, which appears to be contrary to their so-called “shop local” policies.

The contract will be for a period of six weeks and at a value of £95,990 ex VAT, which take it nicely to over £100,000. Nice work if you can get it.

We are told: “This procurement exercise has been conducted in accordance with the Council’s Standing Orders, Financial Regulations, and the Public Regulations.

“Seven contractors submitted a response by the deadline for the submissions. George Beattie & Sons are signed up to the Scottish Business Pledge and pay  all their staff above the real Living Wage.”

It adds: “George Beattie & Sons Ltd has committed to the following social benefits:

• Use of West Dunbartonshire based organisations for sub-contracting
opportunities;
• Donation of goods to local food-share scheme;
• Donations of materials to support a local community project; and
• Donation of money to support a local community project.

It’s something else when you can’t get a local government contract without offering to stock up the local food bank or putting cash into community contracts. How about just doing a good job?

The benefits will be discussed at the project implementation meeting with George Beattie & Sons and  actions to take these forward will be agreed.

The report’s author, council officer Angela Wilson, who has recently not had her troubles to seek in relation to her employment contract with the Council, states: “There are no people implications.”

That is surprising given that people are still living in the houses at Willox Park. Even if they don’t have to move, these mostly vulnerable old folk  will have to put up with the impact of the demolition work which is unlikely to be done without noise and dust and dirt implications.

These are old people remember.

“Financial costs in respect of this contract will be met from the Building Upgrades Capital budget and the costs identified through the procurement process of £95,990 is below the budget identified for this work of £367,619.”

A Risk Analysis reveals the Council have appointed an experienced contractor with a good reputation in demolition who will limit the risk of hazardous substances contaminating a residential area and will eliminate the ongoing risk of vandalism or fire.

It states: “George Beattie & Sons Ltd has no known links to Serious and Organised Crime, which would have significant political and reputational ramifications for the Council.”

When much of the old town centre at Church Street and College Street was demolished, it was well known that one of the companies which did the work was connected with a notorious Glasgow crime lord.

Ms Wilson’s report states: “An equalities screening was undertaken for this report. There is no equalities
impact. This report contributes to the Council’s Strategic Priorities and particular towards:

• Improve local housing and environmentally sustainable infrastructure
• Improve the well-being of communities and protect the welfare of vulnerable people.”

Many people however would say that the Council’s decision to merge all the care homes in the community into a “back of beyond” premises at Crosslet in Dumbarton was an error of judgement.

It has certainly impacted on the ability of many families in West Dunbartonshire to find suitable care accommodation for their relatives during the current pandemic.

Willox Park and the custom built houses for old folk that were built in the Sixties.

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