DAFT IDEAS ABOUND AS WEST DUNBARTONSHIRE PREPARES TO SET ITS COUNCIL BUDGET

NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY

In times like these I think we all deserve a bit of cheering up. When I used to work in national government, I often heard mutterings that important matters such as education, social work, health and social care should be moved upstairs to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

What has been happening in local government recently has made me come to agree with this.

Here in West Dunbartonshire we have a basket case local authority which has shown clearly that it is not up to the job of running these essential services.

What proof do I have of that?

Take a look at what is happening as the council prepares to set its budget for the next financial year.

Those persons  in power are stressing that the council is stony broke and that it is the fault of others that we have never had it so bad.

Can I suggest that these have been brought about by inefficiency, incompetence and an unhealthy doze of convenient corporate amnesia.

One of these is the £6 million they have agreed to give away to Exxonmobil, one of the richest companies in the world, to clean up the environmental mess they created over 50 years at Bowling oil terminal. Yes, that’s a cool £6 million.

Only one councillor of the 22 who were present at the meeting to discuss this voted against it. Daft doesn’t cut it.

Daft was the word that was being used this week to discuss Nicola Sturgeon’s plans to make the next general election a de facto referendum.

Daft decisions and politicians are joined at the hip. We have had many schemes that were unquestionably daft in West Dunbartonshire.

Anyone can make a mistake, but what is really daft is not to learn from them and to keep repeating them.

In the course of reading through the list of budget cuts to be taken on board or indeed rejected by our councillors, I saw one from the education director which suggested that, apart from putting schools on a four-day week,  the council should stop cutting grass in and around schools.

Since they [she] must know that a similar suggestion by Cllr Jonathan McColl, who was leader of the former SNP administration in Church Street, that this should happen on all our open spaces and places such as parks and cemeteries, was widely condemned by the public?

This is just another example of the public not being listened to by the council. Daft.

Another incredible suggestion from the officials is that empty or unused spaces in the white elephant Burgh Hall, which was renovated at a cost of nearly £17 million to accommodate the officials themselves,  without much thought for the public, and none at all for the press, could be used for retail purposes.

The Municipal Buildings in College Park Street which were recently renovated and refurbished and look fantastic are being used [who would have guessed it?] for the members. You could hold a dance in some of their plush offices.

We can’t find enough businesses to occupy the shops in the High Street or Town Centre for retail. The next thing the council will be telling us is that they can turn water into wine.

And, so what about cheering up our crestfallen population then?

Well, one official is recommending that adjustments to the telephone system should be made which would make it even more difficult for people to contact them.

Perhaps she forgot about the astronomical numbers who failed to get an answer from the council on the telephone during the covid crisis. That was around 20,000 folk left hanging on at the end of the line.

Her actual words are: “Replace face to face citizen service provision at Church Street reception with phone access to contact centre.”

And “replace the contact centre with a single emergency and right to repair only manned phone line for housing repairs with all other repairs taken via voicemail, website or e mail.”

It’s not surprising that this official thinks it would be a good idea if the public did not speak to the council at all and that all the communications should come to them on-line.

Someone should tell her that there are lots of people in West Dunbartonshire who wouldn’t have any idea of how to use a computer or an i phone, mainly elderly and infirm people who would be in most need of their services. Daft.

When you have paid your council tax, which will inevitably go up yet again, and been left skint by dint of the cost of living crisis, you will have to find something to do like read a book, which is also not a cheap pastime nowadays unless you go to the library where you can also get a heat while you are browsing the shelves.

Ah, but they might stop you as they did in the past when the council banned from Dumbarton Library all the old men who used the reading room daily to read the papers they couldn’t afford to buy and get some respite from the cold outside.

Whisper this, but it was a Labour council that came up with that idea. Some of the old men in question, it seemed, smelled like … old men.

The budget cut recommendation for 2023 is that the council review a reduction of library opening hours or days across the public network and even in schools. In other words they should shut the libraries.

Did nobody inform these people that there are plans to create a new library and museum at Glencairn House in the High Street at a cost of £ millions?

As for the cash in the Dumbarton Common Good Fund, not council money but cash donated by philanthropic past residents with the good of citizens in mind, to buy more books and improve the library service. The council intention is to cut that by £5,000.

You will have read elsewhere in The Democrat this week about cuts to the lollipop patrols, school breakfast clubs, school clothing grants and leisure activities such as keeping fit and swimming being in jeopardy. Daft.

Some of you will say it’s all very well to criticise, but what would you do?

Two things for a start would be to build a new health centre to replace the one at Artizan and to put a new police office in the town centre to replace the one at Crosslet .

And to create a one stop shop [not a telephone box] for advice on council matters.

Should you feel like throwing yourself in the Leven from the unfinished “showpiece” walkway to the Castle after having read this column, please don’t do that since you could become trapped in one of those dirty, unsightly wrecks that are now an ugly feature of the river.

Dumbarton as a  gateway to Loch Lomond and the West Highlands? There’s only one word to describe that at the moment and that’s DAFT.

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