NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
Nicola Sturgeon may still be hiding behind the couch in the lounge of her ministerial mansion in grey granite Edinburgh’s St Andrew’s Square.
But the question everyone is asking in Dumbarton is not about Ms Sturgeon, who has plenty to hide about following the STV leadership debate, but Cllr Martin Rooney, leader of the Labour administration at West Dunbartonshire Council.
I went down to the Budget meeting in the Burgh Hall and got fed up because I couldn’t hear what was going on and neither I nor members of the public could see what was happening either.
The Council’s musical chairs-type response to criticism of their not-fit-for-purpose £17 million chambers [it will make an excellent but very expensive badminton court] hasn’t solved the problems for the press and public.
They will probably argue that they have done their best with name cards and the like in front of the councillors, but from the gods, where I was, you would need binoculars to see them.
One local newspaper, which takes precedence over The Democrat in that it gets a place at a makeshift press bench [what they get is a wobbly seat with a broken arm on which to rest your notebook] while we don’t even get entry to the chamber.
They reported: “One councillor said it was the worst day in the history of West Dunbartonshire Council,” but they didn’t name the person who said this. Perhaps they could not hear him? Perhaps it was Martin Rooney? Who knows?
It would have been helpful though if the newspaper would have let their readers know who that was, which is the usual practice in these matters. Councillors are supposed to be accountable to the people who vote them in.
Cllrs Martin Rooney and Jonathan McColl – different parties, same old, same old nonsense.
Anyway, was it Martin Rooney, leader of the Labour Group, who allowed his colleague Cllr David McBride to speak for them when they said they would not be responding to the Community Party’s plea for a No Cuts Budget.
That would have landed in them in hot water with the government and maybe even the police if they had chosen to make a stand, and Labour was not for doing that. Not now, not ever.
We would be getting the same old, same old response to the community here who live in a once proud, attractive county town, being taken apart by lily-livered politicians of every shade. Perhaps even pink, which is a colour which has been bandied about a bit recently.
And they would be spending their time over their five-year period of office in a vain attempt to rectify the mistakes made by their predecessors. It wisnae us!
It would yet again be a case of: If you always do what you always did then you will always get what you always got.
And what did Labour inherit from the last SNP administration other than the usual pile of debt and a list of things to do as long as your arm?
And what are we, the paying public, to receive in return for our hard-earned council tax?
Bin collections – all change in that department.
A switch to bin collections every three weeks, a cut in school clothing grants and a five percent rise in council tax.
These were amongst a raft of measures approved by permanently skint West Dunbartonshire Council to plug a £21 million lacuna.
The Labour group also agreed to plans that could see community facilities – such as Napier Hall in Old Kilpatrick, Bonhill Community Centre in Ladyton and Brucehill’s West Dumbarton Activity Centre – moved into the hands of local groups.
Their big idea if for a DIY Dunbartonshire. Funds will be cash cut to clubs and groups throughout the area.
Under the bin plans, general waste bins will move from fortnightly to three-weekly collections, saving £50,000 for the first year then £150,000 each year after that. Recycling bins will be emptied fortnightly as normal.
And to clean up the mess that will leave afterwards, it will cost more than £200,000 [my estimate]. Now that is nonsense and we’ll give you the public reaction later. It’s like the bins. It stinks and will stink even more when this begins.
The Labour group say they have protected around 210 full-time jobs by using more than £5 million of council reserves. More than 100 full-time jobs will go, including in libraries, education and the Leisure Trust.
It was at this point that the councillor who has not been named remarked that it was: “The worst day in the history of West Dunbartonshire Council.”
Money will be invested in upgrading all 51 play parks across the area to make them more accessible. And Dumbarton East’s synthetic football pitch will be replaced at a cost of £220,000. Really? That’s all we need.
The newspaper that got the seat so that they could see and hear things reported that there was cross-party agreement on a five percent increase in council tax, meaning a 2023/24 band D charge of £1,398.98. There wasn’t.
It has also reported that their finance folk estimate that the cuts they are about to make will reduce WDC’s budget deficit from £21 million to around £9 million, with Cllr Rooney saying that Labour are planning to close that in 2024.
Further proposals approved by the administration last week include:
● Identifying options for co-locating Balloch Library within another building to save up to £130,000 annually.
● A 10 percent reduction in West Dunbartonshire Leisure Trust funding, saving £416,000.
● Letting space within the council’s Church Street HQ for a coffee shop, which could generate up to £12,000 per year.
● Reduced opening hours at both public and school libraries, with the loss of five FTE roles to save £115,000 by 2024/25.
● Cutting three roles from the council’s contact centre to save £90,000 annually.
● Cuts to school learning assistants to save £49,000 by 2024/25.
● Reviewing the roles played by school clerical assistants, with the loss of five FTE roles to save £120,000 by 2024/25.
● Cuts to school greenspace budgets for maintaining ground, with the loss of four FTE roles to save £100,000.
● Removing six early learning and childcare officer roles to save £179,000 by 2024/25.
●Reduced funding for the council’s modern apprenticeships scheme by £50,000 to £200,000 annually.
● The axing of 13 roles within the council’s communities team to save £383,000 each year.
● A 25 percent cut in funding for Working4U, with the loss of 25 FTE roles to save more than £1.1m.
● A cut of £87,284 for West Dunbartonshire’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau.
● A £39,031 cut in funding for youth charity Y-Sort-It.
● Reducing the number of tenant liaison officers from four to two, saving £99,000 each year.
● An £11,000 cut in funding for community councils.
●Reduce the Provost’s hospitality fund by £9,000 to £26,000.
● Introducing a £100 annual fee for the council’s Care of Gardens scheme to generate an additional £211,000 annually, with the loss of eight FTE roles.
● A cut to weekend litter collections, with a focus on town centres and parks only to save £47,000 per year.
● A reduction in grass-cutting and street cleaning, with no seasonal workers taken on for the summer months – saving £460,000 annually.
Cllr Rooney said: “It’s never easy having to make savings, as we know. As well as affecting services for our communities we’re also directly impacting on people’s jobs and livelihoods.
“We take our responsibilities very seriously and have explored every option and avenue to ensure that we strike the right balance.”
But they haven’t. They could have passed a No Cuts Budget. They could have decided to lobby the Scottish Parliament. They could have come up with a few good ideas about making life more tolerable for local people.
How bad they are in the persuasion business is highlighted by what happened when the SNP were in power and their group leader, the odious Cllr Jonathan McColl, was asked to go to Edinburgh and plead West Dunbartonshire’s case with the then (now disgraced) Finance Minister Derek Mackay.
Cllr McColl didn’t make it to Holyrood, he said, when he was asked by a Labour councillor. He went instead to a hotel in Stirling where the SNP were having a drink and made the plea there.
Of course, he was unsuccessful. Success is a seven letter word that comes up only very rarely in West Dunbartonshire Council’s defective chambers in Dumbarton.
No figures ever on legal aid. Particularly in mental health.