NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
West Dunbartonshire Council is like the school bus services which they are sometimes prepared to provide for pupils who live too far away to walk to school.
The buses are unreliable and sometimes – when the cynical bus drivers run past the pupils and leave them standing at the stop in the worst of foul weather – non existent.
The “new” Labour administration, sadly and inexplicably, is currently gearing itself up to implement the cuts in these services which were passed on to them by the previous SNP basket case administration.
You will recall their leader Jonathan McColl and his Nationalist cronies of unhappy memory? He was the guy who thought it was a good idea to make an appeal for more council funding by going for a pint in a Stirling hotel with his disgraced colleague, Derek Mackay, the SNP finance minister embroiled in the Calmac ferries scandal, instead of doing as he was instructed by the council.
That, of course, was to make his fiscal pleadings formally at Holyrood in Edinburgh where the now grievously tarnished SNP government clings on perilously to power in the midst of a financial scandal of mega proportions.
The truth of the matter about the bus cuts for school pupils though is that nobody really cares about them and couldn’t care less whether by imposing them the council will be placing children in danger by making them walk from Milton, for example, alongside the “killer” A82 to Our Lady and St Patrick’s in Bellsmyre or Dumbarton Academy in Silverton.
Or the Vale of Leven Academy pupils who will now have to walk from places such as Haldane in Balloch.
It’s not unsurprising for the new Labour leader who quaintly styles himself as Councillor Martin Rooney BSc (Hons) not to be quite with it. He is the person who, when he was in opposition, had the street lighting turned down at a time when there was an outcry about women being afraid to go out after dark.
And who spoke against an effort by one other councillor to have a full investigation into procurement at the council when officers were wining and dining in fancy restaurants and playing golf with at least one contractor who was bidding for (and got) valuable council contracts.
Still, I am told, he is a great campaigner who is adept at putting leaflets through letter boxes.
Certainly there were no elected members at the “consultation” held in out of the way OLSP and, remarkably, given the road safety issues involved, not one officer from Police Scotland either.
I have told you in this column before that the person who was supposed to have done the groundwork for this did not appear even to know where Renton was; and that this man and the Chief Education Officer, Laura Mason, had only one microphone between them with which to address the 30 anxious parents and guardians present.
They could not be heard behind a bus ticket.
The white board carrying the detailed information about what might happen when and if a decision was made by the Education Committee was not readable from the floor of the assembly hall since it was placed out of sight and about 18ft up the wall it was hung on.
One parent whom I had never met in my life before – I say this because cynical councilors and officials will suggest he was “a plant” in the audience – has since sent me this note: “Attached is the transport document that relates to the planning application for OLSP High School. Within it there are clear statements whereby concerns over traffic congestion within the area are alleviated by assurances that dedicated school transport will be provided.
“We’re now a couple of years on and in these it appears that the local authority are hell bent on removing these services. It’s really bad news not just for the kids but also for the residents around the school. I believe this is a matter that is being over looked and swept under the carpet.
“At the public consultation in OLSP, I asked about the safety assessments that the authority had and was told by Laura Mason that I cannot see these until they had made their decision on July 5th. As it turns out the road safety team have asked the education team to release these assessments and they are being actively blocked by Laura Mason’s office. I have also asked them directly.
“On the subject of the planning for the school and where it relates to school transport, surely there is some legal action that can be taken to stop them? Any thoughts?”
Having heard what I had to say at the meeting, that I thought it cruel of the Council to take these steps which would place pupils in danger and cause great anxiety for their parents, I think the excuse that they have come up with to make this cut because the SNP government insists they must is implausible.
The Labour administration should “man up” and take on the Nationalists, seek assistance from Jackie Baillie, the Labour MSP, and make it clear by protesting on the steps of Holyrood that they are prepared to do what it takes to stop this scandal.
They should cease putting the poor mouth on it. Look at the £ millions they earmarked just last week on housing, for example, and the £6 million they have pledged to one of the richest companies in the world to clean up the old Esso tank farm site at Bowling.
Then they should cut out the vanity projects such as the civic reception Provost Douglas McAllister threw with cash from his £30,000 hospitality allowance for a food parcel group from Old Kilpatrick which, not surprisingly, is from the Ward where he gets his votes from.
One wonders how many of the people who make use of food banks locally were invited to this rather posh do where some of the guests wore evening wear?
West Dunbartonshire Council don’t talk to us because we ask too many awkward questions, but how much did this cost; how many councillors and officials were present. Who paid for the hire of the hall and the staffing, for example? Did they need a power card to turn the lights on? Was the fare served up from the food bank?
There’s money around alright. Local organisations and groups are being encouraged to apply for Council funding to support delivery of a range of free fun and enjoyable activities for young people this summer.
There will be “initiatives” across the authority, including arts and crafts sessions, sports, games, breakfast/lunch clubs, family activities.
It sounds to me like there’s a money tree in Church Street, but shamefully not for funding school buses.
After all, a simple thank you to the OK food bank would in all the circumstances have sufficed and the school pupils would stay safe.
Oh, and I omitted to mention the fact that the hire of Clydebank Town Hall was most probably waived for the civic reception while in the meantime the council is looking at upping the charges for the plebs.