By Bill Heaney

I once interviewed Harold Macmillan, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has been credited with telling the county: “You have never had it so good.”

We kept talking over a dram in the bar of the old Calmac ferry Glen Sannox on the journey from Fairlie, near Largs, to Arran, where Mr Macmillan and his wife, Dorothy, were going to take a break at Brodick Castle from the stresses of high office.

He had just resigned and walked out of number 11 Downing Street, just as Nicola Sturgeon had done in Edinburgh this week.

That happened more than 50 years ago and I was just a young reporter on the Scottish Daily Express, which was then Scotland’s largest selling newspaper.

All the different facets of this episode in my career came to mind this week when I heard it reported that someone had turned that Macmillan quote around in order to tell the world “we have never had it so bad.”

Who ever that was, he was right. In an attempt to assuage our concerns about how tough things are going to be and how deep the cuts are going to run, West Dunbartonshire Council this afternoon issued their spin on their budget for the next financial year. I’ll print it all – or as least as much as they are prepared to tell the press and public in Secret Scotland which Labour have just inherited from the SNP – and some have adopted with alacrity.

Along with Police Scotland, the Labour administration on West Dunbartonshire Council appear content to communicate only matters which make them feel safe in the knowledge that no one will ask any questions which might produce answers that, although true, would reflect badly on their public image.

It’s not local, but think of the missing person Nicola Bulley public relations disaster which  Lancashire Police found themselves in this week.

Handled better it would have saved them being inundated with questions and swamped with public criticism on local media.Here, in full, is what West Dunbartonshire Council, think you should know about the upcoming budget on March 1:

A range of budget savings options will be considered by elected members next month to close the Council’s £14.6 million budget gap.

The Council is facing the biggest financial challenge in its history, compounded by a range of factors including increases in inflation as well as interest on loans, utilities, fuel, materials and employee costs.

A first tranche of options was approved at a meeting of Council in December, reducing the budget gap from its initial £21 million.

Now additional changes have been proposed by officers across a number of services in a second tranche to be considered by councillors.

Proposals aim to make savings while protecting those key frontline services relied on most by the community as much as possible within the confines of the available funding.

Among them is an option to carry out a review of the current community facilities provision, which has been under utilised post-pandemic. Under this option, which has the potential to achieve a saving of £257,000 in both 2023/24 and 2024/25, communities would be supported to explore taking on ownership through asset transfer.

Councillors will also consider options around the pricing structure and eligibility for the Care of Garden maintenance scheme, which has the potential to save £440,000 per annum.

In Education, consideration will be given to providing statutory education across four days, with non-curriculum led activities held for targeted groups of pupils on the fifth day within high schools. This option would generate a saving of £1.3million in 2023/24, rising to £2million in 2024/25.

And a three-weekly bin collection cycle could be introduced, which as well as improving the area’s recycling rate, would save the Council £50,000 in 2023/24, rising to £150,000 the following year.

Options to reduce the Communities and Working4U teams could generate a saving of almost £1.6 million between them.

The options will be discussed and considered at a meeting of full Council on Wednesday 1 March, with no decisions taken before that date.

Council Chief Executive Peter Hessett, pictured,  said: “Officers have undertaken a significant amount of work while preparing these budget options, with a view to enabling the Council to deliver a balanced budget. While we all want to protect and preserve the services our communities rely on most, and have strived to minimise the impact on our communities and employees, the scale of the financial challenge is unprecedented.

“I recognise the publication of these options will be unsettling for residents who rely on services and are already experiencing challenges due to the cost of living. 

Sadly the Council is not immune from those same pressures: inflation, interest rates, increased fuel and utility costs, combined with the funding the Council will receive from the Scottish Government amounting to a real-terms decrease compared with 2022/23.

 “These are proposals at this stage and no decision will be made until they are considered by Councillors at the Council meeting on the 1st of March.”

Further details on the options being presented to Council are available on the [council] website here.

There are two things wrong with this statement. The first and most serious is that it has not been issued by a councillor, an elected representative of the people.

It does not tell us which party is in power in Church Street or arrogate responsibility to those whom they consider to be responsible for the mess we are in, which isn’t just “unsettling” but causing both physical and mental harm across the community.

This bland statement in mitigation is telling the public, which has never had it so bad, that if we think things are hard for us then times are just as tough for them.

Really? We shouldn’t be giving a monkey’s about them since they are well looked after and well able to look after themselves.

My council tax is pretty hefty and, I would imagine, so is yours. I don’t blame the council’s communications department for this propaganda.

I blame the people who sent them out to serve it up to a gullible public and press, and that’s the councillors.

That is why we need change here. We need people to get up off their backsides and tell our councillors and officials that this change will not be brought about easily.

If you always do what you always did then you will always get what you always got.

Disgracefully, while looking through the proposed cuts for West Dunbartonshire, I noticed that some people employed in putting them together were the same people who were responsible for making an employee’s life a complete and utter misery and advocating that he should be unfairly sacked and on the spot. An employment tribunal rightly condemned them for this gross error of malpractice.  Man’s inhumanity to man comes to mind.

Maybe such persons as these should be sacked on the spot instead of being allowed to continue with their careers and deciding for themselves when they will leave with one of those “golden parachute” pensions and compensation deals which so many people in public service occupations receive for failure.

In West Dunbartonshire, we have not been well served by our council since the last reorganisation of local government in Scotland.

A review of what is going on now – and swift action to implement the hopefully new ideas and systems of government it will produce – is what is required. And it is required now.

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