BUDGET: WHY COUNCILLORS, NOT OFFICERS, SHOULD BE CALLING THE SHOTS

NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY

Swingeing cuts to help West Dunbartonshire Council close a gap in their budget of more than £20 million are on the cards.

Suggestions of how they should do that will be presented to councillors for consideration when one would have thought it would be the other way round, with councillors presenting suggestions to officials.

After all, the councillors told us when they stood for election in May that they were the best people for the job and that they had loads of ideas as to how the Council could make West Dunbartonshire a much brighter and better place in which to live.

The Labour administration should be submitting a detailed plan to the new £150,000 a year chief executive, Peter Hessett, and asking him and his colleagues to implement it according to a timescale that elected members would be content with.

Councillors should take full responsibility for the plan and make it clear to the public out there that they are the ones to blame if things go wrong.

And also the ones to take the credit if they go well, according to what they themselves have suggested.

Only then would they be earning their salaries and expenses, which can range from around £25,000 to about £50,000 a year plus expenses, depending on what position they hold.

We (the press and public) are being told the new budget proposals  have been put forward by officers “as part of work to address the difference between the income the Council receives and the money it costs to deliver services to the community”.

That is around 25 per cent of what it draws in from council tax and charges for day to day public services.

The rest, around 75 per cent, comes from the Scottish government which, under the present SNP regime is pretty miserable with its money.

We are additionally told that, like many other local authorities throughout Scotland, the Council’s budget gap for 2023/24 is “the most significant it has ever faced”.

And it is likely to increase further due to a range of factors including increases in inflation, interest rates, utilities, fuel, materials and employee costs.

For us, the punters, this means we are almost certainly going to have to meet a new, higher rate of council tax and on top of that  increased charges for council services such as halls and playing fields, cemetery and cremation charges, leisure activities, parks and the many other services to keep us fit and well and well educated.

The councillors won’t be suffering and the highly paid chief officials most certainly won’t be either.

“The options have been developed to reduce spending while protecting frontline services, including services residents identified as their priorities during a public consultation on the Strategic Plan earlier this year,” a council spokesperson tells us.

Stop people in the street or the supermarket – we don’t have a High Street worth talking about – and they will tell you they have never heard of the Strategic Plan and since that is the case it was never worth the time or the money it took to produce it.

Among the proposals being mooted is an option to bring school transport more in line with the statutory provision, which the Council currently exceeds.

Again, ask the public to tell you about the statutory provision. What does that entail.?

It is said that this change would save £200,000 in 2023/24, rising to £300,000 in future years.

So, who will suffer for it. The pupils who will be forced to walk to school and back? Maybe the councillors should have had the vision to anticipate this before they decided to put Our Lady and St Patrick’s Secondary School up at the Long Crags?

Additionally, say the Labour spin doctors, “changes to school staffing allocation has the potential to achieve a saving of £654,000”.

We are told they haven’t got the money to give teachers the ten per cent wage rise they deserve.

If that’s the case then how can it be possible to save nearly £700,000 from the “school staffing allocation”?

Also proposed are changes to the opening hours of the Council’s recycling centres at Dalmoak and Old Kilpatrick, with potential annual savings of between £24,000 and £140,000.

In addition, amendments to refuse vehicle routes will be considered which would reduce the Council’s carbon footprint, and deliver an annual reduction in spending of up to £189,000.

Why don’t they just tell us that it’s at the back of their minds to cut back on bin collections?

Parking in Dumbarton and the Vale is a nightmare at present. I don’t believe anyone would disagree with that.

Council officers – remember they got an extra £12,000 a year on their salary just prior to the departure of the former chief executive, Joyce White, on a golden parachute-type deal – can probably afford the to pay the odd parking fine.

And they have a car park bigger than the one across the road at Lidl to leave their cars in all day if they want, although there isn’t much “presenteeism” going on there.

Don’t we hear – and hear often – that council staff should be getting public transport to work and persuaded with small bribes to start cycling to work?

The public should hold on tight to the money they have because the officials think “additional income could also be generated through the introduction of parking enforcement, which is currently overseen by the Police in West Dunbartonshire, to bring in up to £325,000 a year”.

As for Climate Change and our community’s contribution to that, just listen to this: “By introducing a charge for use of Electric Vehicle Charging Points throughout the area, which are currently free to use, the Council could generate up to £380,000 over the next three years.”

Council Chief Executive, Peter Hessett, pictured right,  said: “We know this range of options will be unsettling for our residents who are struggling with the cost of living and relying more and more on our services.

“Sadly, West Dunbartonshire Council [and, he omitted to say the residents of this authority area] is not immune from these same pressures, and like many other authorities around Scotland, we are facing the most challenging financial situation in our history.

“The scale of the budget gap, compounded by rises in costs like fuel, energy and staffing, means that considering these savings options is vital to protect frontline services as well as deliver a balanced budget in March.

“These are proposals at this stage and no decision will be made until they are considered at the Council meeting on December 21.”

So, what would I suggest the Council does with our money?

First of all they could put a ceiling on the pay package rate for officers at £80,000 a year and bring those services they have placed in arms’ length quangos back into full public ownership.

We are told that the budget options are detailed as part of a Financial Update report published on the Council website today, ahead of the meeting later his month.

The options are part of a two-stage budget process, with further options being developed by officers which will be considered at a Budget meeting in March.

Residents – and councillors – should by then have the time to put their own ideas down on paper.

I am sure the Council would greatly appreciate their advice.

Top picture: The site West Dunbartonshire Council missed out on for a new town square for Dumbarton and gave planning permission for a supermarket.

2 comments

  1. Too right Jim Bolan.

    There’s plenty of money about. Let us not kid ourselves of that. Covid was an opportunity for boot filling. Michelle Mone is but a small example of that. £203 million to a company set up two weeks before a contract award for the supply of £203m of useless and now unused PPE. That she Mone received £29 million into an offshore bank account, Just think how much the other Tory brigands got.

    And heating, Energy utilities are making super profits beyond the wildest dreams whilst folks struggle to heat their homes. It makes you laugh. And why shouldn’t we laugh at all the human hardship. I’ll bet the Michelle Mones, or the Jacob Rees Moggs laugh as they enjoy their wealth courtesy of the little people paying their pennies. If you don’t laugh, you’d cry.

    Anyway, no doubt the councillors will decide to authorise a cut in the services, whilst turning, as they have always done, away from rooting out corruption, waste and inefficiency. Not for them setting a needs-based budget.

    But yes, radical ecio-socio change is coming. Pensions, savings, incomes are being devastated as prices soar. The wheels are coming off. But hey, we voted for this better together union, this Brexit bounce. Maybe folks should grimly just suck it up. That’s what the Michelle Mone’s of the world are doing. And she’s doing nicely.

    And mind folks, in a country blessed with a surplus of gas, oil, hydro and wind, don’t skimp on the heating during this snap of artic heating. Turn it up and dance!

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