SPECIAL REPORT BY BILL HEANEY
As public consultations go, this one was a catastrophe. Even that doesn’t describe adequately the out and out disaster this meeting was between the council and worried parents to discuss future arrangements for pupil transport to our local schools.
For a start, the 30 or so people, including some single mothers with small children and at least one person who was a carer for her husband, turned up and huddled together for support in the face of officialdom on the assembly hall steps of Our Lady and St Patrick’s High School (OLSP).
They were confronted with two officers of West Dunbartonshire Council with one microphone between them, a white board with important information so high up on a wall – about 18 feet up – that no one could read it, and a map that looked as if someone had taken a bottle of ink and splattered it across the board.
The “killer” A82 road en route to Our Lady and St Patrick’s High School which was controversially sited in Bellsmyre despite the council being told the site was not fit for purpose.
The anxious parents were told they needn’t worry about that. The map wasn’t really relevant since it didn’t cover accurately the new boundaries that were to be introduced for free travel if it’s approved in July by West Dunbartonshire Council.
The parents were diverted from the actuality of all this to health and safety matters involving the hundreds of pupils who would now be walking to school instead of taking the bus.
The pupils would be fitter and healthier than ever before, the officials told the parents, all of whom did not look entirely convinced.
The officials didn’t mention the fact that if children from Milton village at Dumbuck missed their bus – or it ran past them without the driver stopping for them, which they said happens frequently – then they would have to walk to school along a narrow footpath which runs alongside the A82 “killer” Glasgow-Loch Lomondside road.
A teenage girl was knocked down last year and broke her leg on that stretch of road at the foot of Argyll Avenue and young boy of secondary school age was struck by a car and killed as he crossed the road near the garage turned-car-wash.
Children today using the A82 would have to pass through the water and mud that swills down from the quarry on to the road which, if it was flooded – as it often does – and they would be “drowned” by the spray off the heavy traffic passing by Dumbuck Quarry.
This isn’t shallow water in the pavement-side gutter. It is filthy waves of a foot or more high and spray high enough to go over a pedestrian’s head.
Not much fun or health and safety in that situation on a cold, wet, icy, snowy morning battered by strong winds and hailstones coming off the nearby shores of the River Clyde.
Hearing that is bad enough, but one mother from Renton – at least one of the officials appeared not to have a clue where Renton was – said she was extremely unhappy about her daughter, an attractive young woman “with a mini-skirt up to her backside” having to walk to school through the darkness and semi-dereliction of Vale of Leven industrial estate.
In this day and age when there are so many attacks on women in the dark and even in broad daylight and the river towpath some pupils might need to take has even been a murder scene.
The industrial estate looks specially designed as a place to commit murder and conceal the body of the victim.
A murder trial is due to take place soon in the High Court in Glasgow where three people will be charged with callously murdering a schoolgirl and leaving her in the river to die.
I felt sorry for these parents. Living with poverty and deprivation and even life-term illnesses and disability in your family isn’t easy, certainly not for one woman, a single mother who said she had to be at her work before 8 o’clock in the morning and had to be “out the door” before her children set off for school.
The decision to change the transport arrangements for these mothers to their financial disadvantage and inconvenience is cruelty by no other name. It verges on abuse.
The budget cut in funding for education, which this proposed so-called saving comes under, was introduced by the now gone SNP administration, but the new Labour administration is poised to implement it.
Labour don’t want to be associated with this, of course, but in a lily-livered way they are kow-towing to the SNP government in Edinburgh.
I don’t think anyone needs told what a parcel of rogues in a nation the SNP is. The scandal is all over the newspapers, radio and television, and it will continue to be headlines for a long time to come.
The new Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth and First Minister Humza Yousaf.
Our councillors and officials need to acquire some back bone. They need to stand up to the new First Minister Humza Yousaf and Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth and tell them they can do their own dirty work.
They need to tell them that what they are doing is not just unkind but cruel in the extreme and that what we are dealing here with is poverty and deprivation exacerbated by the cost of living crisis which this week saw the inflation figure for food prices soar by 20 per cent.
The First Minister needs to do a U-turn on this as has with so many other policies he has inherited from Nicola Sturgeon.
Our NHS hospitals and care services have gone to hell in a hand cart under this SNP government. Our children are going to school cold, tired and hungry and now West Dunbartonshire Council is moving in Scrooge-like to take this one last crust of free transport away from them.
What the council will be doing if they implement this cut is also exposing children to very real danger of injury and possibly even death by having to walk to school on killer roads, which are themselves, pot-holed and rutted and not fit for purpose. Making the roads even more dangerous.
Forget about all this 21st century woke and other nonsense about children being healthier and rosy cheeked as a result of them walking to school. These new travel arrangements are an imposition. The electorate have not agreed to them and they won’t be doing so any time soon. Prepare for protests.
And just one footnote from me is that another of the stupid suggested budget measures was that the number of school crossing patrols – the lollipop people – should be reduced to save money.
Councillors – and officials – should come back into the real world. What planet are these people living on?
Oh, and a note to Nicola Sturgeon. Perhaps she could divert that luxury bus Police Scotland are looking after at present down Dunbartonshire way to help out with taking the pupils to school. It would be a retirement present from her to long-suffering us.
We could make Nicola a promise that we would return the bus to her during the holidays when she and her husband Peter could drive it to their holiday home in Portugal?
The Community Party posted the notice below (the one people at the meeting were unable to see because it was placed out of sight)
Top picture: The complicated traffic lights on the “killer” A82 outside Dumbarton Cemetery. Pictures by Bill Heaney
Lets be quite clear about this.
When questioned some years back about the safety of children crossing the A82 the then director of education one Terry Lannigan at a public meeting said that by the time kids are starting secondary school they should be able to cross the road.
That the question was asked specifically about the A82 and in the light of a fatality some weeks earlier of an elderly person crossing the road just past Barnhill towards Dumbarton, the logic of saving a few pounds or an hour a day bussing compared to at the tragedy of the loss of a child is relevant today as it was back then.
The A82 is a killer road. That is an absolute fact. But hey, kids are expendable in this rotten council administration, and of course the then director who said that it was time to hang up his boots and retire, didn’t just retire, but did so on efficiency grounds that topped up his pension at a cost to the council pension pot of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Meanwhile, all the lawyers in Scotland are millionaires. Thanks to the taxpayers.