Notebook by Bill Heaney
It’s going to be a long goodbye for West Dunbartonshire Council’s Chief Executive Officer Joyce White if she decides to hold on to her job until Easter.
Mrs White, pictured right, has issued a valedictory message to councillors and staff at the basket case council, in which she is praised for all the good things West Dunbartonshire Council has done in the past ten years and fails to mention the blunders and conflict of which there have been many.
This press release has hubris written all over it. I have never seen its like before in all the 50-odd years I have been covering politics both nationally and locally.
There used to be a tradition in politics that officials such as Joyce White were never mentioned in press reports of council meetings, and certainly not criticised.
Elected members, politicians, took the credit for everything that was praiseworthy and took the blame, although often reluctantly in the manner of Boris Johnston, for what went wrong.
In Dumbarton, for example, no one would ever in a million years have criticised the Burgh Chamberlain for the Town Council budget. Or the Town Clerk for a planning matter.
The Finance Committee convener took the blame when the rents and rates were increased, and he took the credit when they went down, which wasn’t often I have to say.
Not in West Dunbartonshire though. That press release indicated that Joyce White, who has a salary and pensions package of around £150,000 a year, has a big hit for herself.
It makes her out to be the most important person at the council, which she is not, of course.
It said: “Joyce White has been at the helm of the organisation for more than 10 years and has been responsible for the management of a wide range of operations and key Council services.
“During her tenure she has been the driving force behind extensive and ambitious regeneration projects including West Dunbartonshire Energy Centre, new schools and campuses, modern care homes and brand new high quality Council housing.
“Under her leadership the Council has taken on more than 1000 apprentices; supported over 3000 local business and raised attainment among young people.
“Joyce also supported the Council workforce to thrive, championing flexible and agile working, as well as empowering employees by encouraging innovation and supporting collaboration.”
The elected representatives will be – or should be – livid at this. When it comes to the elections on May 5 will the leaflets of the SNP administration list these as their achievements over the past five years.
Or will their election leaflets say these things were all down to Joyce White? I think not.
The press release adds: “In 2018, following an in depth review of the Council’s performance by the Accounts Commission, Joyce’s strong direction was highlighted for the significant progress made and clear and steady improvements.
“And the same year, it was her robust leadership of West Dunbartonshire Council, alongside her services to further education and girl guiding, which led to her being awarded an OBE.
“Most recently she worked to ensure services were maintained in the most challenging circumstances the Council has faced during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
There wasn’t a mention of the care homes scandal or 20,000 telephone calls to the Council that went unanswered at the height of the pandemic or of old folk being sent from Dumbarton to Port Glasgow to have their jags or being sent to Alexandria when the Renton road was closed. Not a dicky bird.
Or about the fact that the £16 million spent on the refurbishment of the Burgh Hall fell far short of expectations and the public did not get their money’s worth.
And no excuses either for the fact that the Health Board was hiring out local halls for vaccination stations when the Burgh Hall was lying empty and staff were – and still are – working from home.
It failed to mention that time that members of the public who tried to get a rightful place at councils were refused entry to meetings and tensions worryingly ran high as they were held back at the reception desk of the Burgh Hall.
Council leader Jonathan McColl and Labour leader Martin Rooney praised the retiring CEO.
Council Leader Councillor Jonathan McColl said: “Joyce has been an exceptional Chief Executive with unfailing dedication to West Dunbartonshire Council and the communities it serves.
“During my time working with her she has always gone above and beyond what is expected, and her strength, determination and enthusiasm in an increasingly demanding environment has always been greatly appreciated.”
Councillor Martin Rooney, Leader of the Labour Group in West Dunbartonshire, said: “During her time with West Dunbartonshire Council Joyce has shown that she is a capable, trustworthy and inspiring leader and it has been a pleasure to work with her to deliver change and transformation to the communities we serve.”
I suppose that depends on where you are standing. My experience is nothing like that. She had me banned and boycotted, and she tried to gag me. If I had questions, they would have to go through the tortuous process of making a Freedom of Information request. She refused me a drink of water during a long meeting in Clydebank.
You won’t be surprised that one of Mrs White’s strongest critics is Cllr Jim Bollan, who has forgotten more about local government than Mrs White ever learned, since she tried to forbid public discussion of the corruption allegations against senior council officials.
He said this week: “The Community Party will not be sorry to see Mrs White resign from her post of CEO. Audit Scotland reported she was aware for years of corrupt practices by senior officers in the allocation of around £9m of work with no Tenders, Contracts or Post Inspections in place, to one particular Private Company.
“These actions broke various key Council Standing Orders and cost the public purse an incalculable amount of Council taxpayers money, according to Audit Scotland.
“She will walk away with her substantial pension. No officers were held to account for the corrupt activities uncovered. She reported me to the Standards Commission for helping to uncover the corrupt practices, but they struck down 35 of the 37 allegations she made against me.
“WDC should take this opportunity to have an independent review of the senior management team at the Council to ensure we have the correct leadership going forward in a period which will be very difficult for Local Government.”