By Bill Heaney
Council tax in West Dunbartonshire is to be increased by five per cent, the Labour administration decided on Wednesday
Labour councillors were accused of being “pink socialists” when they refused to adopt a Community Party suggestion from Cllr Jim Bollan that a “No Cuts” budget should be passed by the members.
Cllr Jim Bollan and UNITE trade union rep Margaret Wood.
Cllr Bollan said later: “It was shameful that not one Labour councillor had the bottle or the guts to face the 200 plus demonstration of anti cuts protesters outside the Council Offices, before they savagely cut services and jobs.
“Some of these so called ‘pink socialists’ when supporting the Labour cuts and job losses said they were ‘proud’ and even ‘delighted’ to support the Labour cuts.
“The demonstrators outside and all the Council Trades Unions called on all councillors to refuse to implement the Tory cuts and stand with the local communities who elected us.
“Unlike Labour councillors in Glasgow, local Labour members capitulated and implemented reckless cuts to many front facing Council and third sector community services. Scandalous anti working class, rancid behaviour.”
COUNCILLORS David McBride and Jim Bollan in a previous protest outside the council offices.
Councillor David McBride said that the possibility of the council being temporarily shut down by the SNP government in Edinburgh and the administration here being replaced by officials from outside was the main reason for Labour’s refusal to comply with the “no cuts” request.
However, a trade union delegation made it clear that they were dismayed that Labour in Dumbarton were “doing the SNP’s dirty work for them”.
David Smith, of UNISON, told the meeting: “The joint trade unions have a red line where we do not negotiate or agree to cuts.
“We appreciate councillors will feel they have a difficult job to do tonight however, that is not our view. In the 10 years pre covid between cuts and management adjustments our local
authority has been cut to the tune of tens of millions of pounds. Employees cannot work any harder or any smarter or more efficiently. That is not the answer.
“A culture has developed in our organisation of panic, fear and alarm amongst our workforce around budget setting time, on the day of budget setting money is found employees despite being made aware of the scale of the budget gap were caught up in the usual apathy, under the spell which has been cast for many years that money would be found.
“It was only when the potential budget cuts were proposed that the workforce were truly aware, shocked, and ultimately devastated, with the news of these proposed cuts and management adjustments. The pain doesn’t stop here as we are still to hear how the arms length organisations will propose to balance their books now too.
“For too long councillors and chief officers taking salaries for steering the ship, have implemented Tory Westminster and Scottish government inflated cuts in our local authority.
“Against the backdrop of the modern world we live in, there has never been a more significant time in decades, for a local authority to break the mould.
“We call on this council – now is the time for servant leadership – now is the time to stand with your community and now is the time for real change.”
GMB Scotland rep David Scott told councillors: “None of these cuts or management adjustments is palatable.
“Equalities; the decision taken by this council in December to allow chief officers to consult was in effect Labour opening the door for this employer to attempt to slash workers terms and conditions. In-work poverty is off the scale in West Dunbartonshire.
“Members are walking to work as they cant afford transport. People are choosing between heating or eating. Employees on a variety of grades are using foodbanks. Now this council is about to put hundreds on the dole.
“Has education gone too far? No breakfast for the kids in schools. Cutting early years staff already in crisis (don’t say meltdown). Trying to take away school crossing patrollers. Making our children walk further to get to school.
“To be quite frank – [the proposal for] education over 4 days a week and activities which they don’t have a plan for yet is ridiculous.
“Working for you – what are we doing to our communities most vulnerable? Are we really attacking our community with these proposals?
“Welfare rights brought in £7.2 million last year. Cut them and how do people get this level of support?
“How will our youth get in the job market if you cut apprenticeships? Are we really further subjecting our youth to poverty wages at a time when we lack skilled trades?
“Our W4U learning teams engage with citizens who need to learn English, basic literacy and numeracy cuts here will further exclude large proportions of our community. Visually our area will deteriorate further.
“How do you think this community will look if you stop collecting rubbish from parks and town centres on the weekend? Seasonal workers won’t be employed should you take these options – meaning our area will look like a tip.
“The weans in education canny play as your taking 100 grand out that budget – so their grass wont be cut either. Then there will be charges for grass collection
“Procurement cuts – wasn’t this a spend to save initiative not so long ago? Cuts here are dangerous. Wasn’t this brought in for financial reasons, for the experts to to regulate our transactions thus ensuring anti corruption measures were in place?
“Now procurement under £2 million wont be monitored by finance but by services themselves – how do you expect them to do that with little experience in this field and if these cuts go through – we are already massively overstretched?
“What a perilous financial position that leaves WDC in, wide-open to reputational damage and financial irregularities.”
Then Margaret Wood, of the UNITE union, told the under-fire Labour group: “There have been typos and inaccurate information on documentation presented to us, which very naturally leads us to question the remainder of the documentation.”
“Furthermore the eia’s and screening forms require to be better – is the true impact on our communities being measured?
“Not one councillor in this chamber stood on an austerity ticket. Not one councillor told the community in the hustings that they would implement Tory and Scottish government cuts.
“Numerous councillors did tell the community that they would fight – our community tells us to tell you; ‘fight harder’ and ‘do more’.
“We don’t need to look far in terms of geography for the lessons – Glasgow Labour recently walked out of their budget-setting meeting refusing to implement cuts with Anas Sarwar proudly boasting about this in the media.
“Success leaves clues – when we look at our history we only need to cast our eyes as far as Liverpool and look what they did when Thatcher was at the helm, in order to get more money for their local authority.
“West Dunbartonshire joint trade unions, including our community who gathered in their numbers outside, request that all locally elected councillors stand with us… please stand up and show our community that you are with us.
“They now request that every locally elected councillor follows us outside, that you stand in solidarity with the workers and our community and that will also show that you refuse to set a cuts budget, it will force by elections and it will show our electorate that you are with us.
“Fortune favours the brave – this meeting will show our community where you stand on this.”
However, the Labour group, including their leader, Cllr Martin Rooney, sat on their hands and the cuts went through.
Last night the anger amongst trade unionists had not gone away.
Margaret Wood, of UNITE, expanded on the statement she had made earlier in the council chamber, where attempts have been made to make improvements to the sound and seating situation. There is still no press bench.
However, these amounted to what looked like yet another white elephant It looked like no more than musical chairs and sounded like a broken down record player when you could hear any sound at all from the public gallery.
“The £16 million spent on creating the new Burgh Hall has turned out to be yet another white elephant, almost on a par with the ferries fiasco.been a very expensive failure.
Margaret Wood said: “Unite are not surprised at the decision of our Labour Administration to implement these cuts. These cuts will be felt and be seen in our local community for years to come. This is not only about jobs, terms and conditions and the devastating effects on our community.
“This was an opportunity to stand with the Community and tell the SG and Westminster Government that working people would no longer pick up the tab for the Tories mini budget, COVID contracts to their friends or large corporation profiteering. There is a bigger picture the demise of Local Government has started and will only gather pace. Make no mistake without local government during COVID the picture would have been very different.
“it was LG that carried the burden of Governments who were ill prepared but not ill informed that there was a high risk of a Pandemic. When local government does not exist who will pick this up ? The JTU request was not a big ask, many Councillors would only be surrendering a second income, of course the only Councillor who was willing to make personal sacrifice was Jim Bollan a man who represents the people who elected him unwaveringly.
“There proves their is no place locally for big Party politicians these politicians act for the rosette and only the rosette not for the Communities they stand for election in.”