NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
When your team is down the equivalent of 5-0 in a football match, which is where West Dunbartonshire Council is at present, and bringing in a new manager, as WDC did at the turn of the year, hasn’t brought you the results you were looking for, then you have to start thinking outside the box.
That is why radical change is needed across Scotland’s councils – and West Dunbartonshire in particular.
According to the speakers at a trades union meeting in the car park at WDC’s Church Street headquarters on Saturday things at the council can only get better.
Workers right across the board feel under-paid, under-valued, unappreciated and un-loved.
An I Kissed a Binman campaign is overdue in West Dunbartonshire.
These guys and their waste re-cycling colleagues are the latest to find themselves in the cross hairs of cuts in council services.
Following in the footsteps of their SNP colleagues, who messed up almost everything they touched, the Labour administration want redundancies at the Dalmoak Recycling Centre on Renton Road.
The way forward according to them is to introduce a new schedule and new routes for bin collections, leaving families whose bins are full another month or so to have them emptied.
Rubbish is falling out on to the pavements and between this and the uncut grass and the heatwave the potential for an invasion of rats and bluebottles is almost unprecedented.
I had an inkling all was not well in the world of waste disposal when my own brown bin was not emptied on Monday … or Tuesday … or Wednesday … or Thursday or today. I reported it on the stupid “How Can I Help” column on Facebook, which is simply a list of council failures which underscores just how poor council services really are.
No sign of the bin lorry so far anyway, but we live in hope as the bin is full to the brim and there’s a lot of gardening to be done and nowhere to put the grass and hedge cuttings.
Unlike West Dunbartonshire Council many of us out here in Barloan still cut the grass and hedges and try to keep the place tidy.
Since WDC has one of the worst report cards in Scotland for re-cycling waste, it is strange – but not unexpected – that they have embarked on a redundancy programme for that sector.
One would have thought that they would have been recruiting personnel to help with the increased amounts of waste that will accrue from picnics and barbecues and bins full to overflowing as gardeners take the chance to get on with the work at hand.
And folk head for the Shore and Levengrove and leave their litter behind.
For those of you who know the Dalmoak Centre, right, there was this week one operative at the top side, closer to the railway, and one other to give assistance at the bottom site.
A close informant of The Democrat, but not a spy which they disgracefully had/ have at the health board, scrutinising the comments on social media of relatives of patients who died in a dirty hospital, tells us the council have little or no chance of getting volunteers for redundancy in any department, never mind the bins and re-cycling centres.
And that’s not because it is such a wonderful pl;ace to work. It’s quite the opposite in fact with bullying no stranger to its HR escutcheon.
Will the Labour council then start sacking people? I sincerely hope not.
However, according to Audit Scotland’s latest report on local government, councils must radically change how they operate – particularly how they collaborate with partners – if they are to improve and maintain services to their communities.
This doesn’t mean taking them out to lunch at Cameron House, pictured left, for some expensive wine and fine dining or traipsing around the banks of Loch Lomond on a golf course.
The report states that councils worked well with their partners to address the impacts of Covid-19. Not everyone would agree with that either. How many deaths were there of residents in old people’s homes? How much unnecessary hassle was caused to their relatives? And what about the Do Not Resuscitate notes on their files?
The council however need to implement the lessons learned during the pandemic in order to now cope with reducing budgets, growing demographic and workforce pressures, and declining performance across some services, the recycling service just for one.
The Scottish Government and COSLA urgently need to finalise the planned ‘New Deal’ settlement for local government, allowing for more long-term planning, flexibility and transparency in councils’ budgeting process.
Openness and transparency are not words West Dunbartonshire Council like much. And criticism of them is a no, no to the extent that they ban journalists from making inquiries into their affairs and holding them to account. Don’t start me about Freedom of the Press.
Currently, an increasing proportion of funding is ring-fenced for national priorities; this constrains councils from making decisions about how to best use money to address the local needs of their citizens and communities.
I doubt if offering to lend money to Lidl to renovate the dystopian Alexandria town centre or Exxon the £ millions they need to clean up the pollution they left behind at the Esso tank farm at Bowling falls into that category.
Audit Scotland says councils must now rethink how they work together, and with local partners and communities, to provide financially sustainable services whilst tackling national issues such as climate change, child poverty and inequalities. Few councils provide services jointly or share support services across different councils.
Naturally the roads services – you all know the streets with the pot holes, including on the Erskine Bridge – was the one department they shared with Inverclyde Council. That “experiment” was a disaster and had to be scrapped. More public money down the drain.
Councils also need better data in order to ensure that they can demonstrate that their services are meeting their citizens’ needs.
Tim McKay, Acting Chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “The New Deal for local government, agreed between the Scottish Government and COSLA, is long overdue. Putting this in place will give councils longer-term financial stability, supporting them to make decisions and make the fundamental changes that are urgently needed.
“Councils have gone beyond the point where making savings is enough. If the change needed doesn’t happen now, some services will continue to get worse or deeper cuts will be made.
“This will impact on communities and individuals that are already at crisis point with the effects of inequality and persistently high poverty.
“Councils need to have open and honest conversations with their communities and staff about the future of council services.”
Since one of the best ways to contact the community in West Dunbartonshire is through The Democrat, the snowflakes on our council management “team” have decided not to speak to us since we asked them to make better provision for the press in their Church Street headquarters, a £16 million monument to spite and inefficiency.
The New Deal for local government is long overdue. It will give councils longer-term financial stability, supporting them to make decisions and make the fundamental changes urgently needed.
Tim McKay, Acting Chair of the Accounts Commission