NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
Updated Saturday, July 8, 2023
There’s an old saying that you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspapers. We all know this is very true and that the amount of propaganda we receive in what’s left of them has expanded exponentially in recent times.
I almost fell off my chair when I read Dame Jackie Baillie’s excellent expose of the amount of cash the SNP Scottish government and their place-men on health boards and local councils spend on spin doctors.
Millions and millions of pounds are being tossed around like a drunk with his wages on a Friday night while we are in the middle of a cost of living crisis.
Folk can’t afford their mortgage or their rent and children are going hungry because their parents haven’t enough in the bank to pay the bill for the messages at the supermarket check-out.
There is a peach of spin-doctoring practices in this week’s Lennox Herald though. The editorial team has swallowed a tale from West Dunbartonshire Council which goes as follows:
The Planned cuts to school transport have been axed after West Dunbartonshire Council dug deep to continue running services. Labour chiefs say that they have ‘dug deep’ to secure a financial package that ensures school bus services can continue to run across the region.
I can’t argue with that or that in December, a school transport review was tabled amongst options to help the council close a £21 million budget gap, which the local authority’s Labour administration said was the legacy of the Scottish Government’s financial settlement for local authorities.
It was presented amongst other cuts as a way to shave £200k from the 2023/24 budget, as well as a further £100,000 in 2024/25 to help plug the budget black hole.
However the plan was met with a very loud outcry from parents, teaching staff and pupils, and could’ve seen some students facing 45 minute walks to school via unlit paths and a dangerously dark industrial estate.
Nor argue with that either.
The option was considered by councillors as part of a package of cuts ahead of a final decision being given the green light.
The views of residents, parents, church representatives and school communities were considered as part of a statutory consultation. Education Scotland also provided feedback on any educational benefits derived from the proposal.
A series of meetings were held to let locals across the council area have their say, including at Our Lady and Saint Patrick’s High School and Vale of Leven Academy.
Some 203 respondents (88.6 percent) were against the proposed reduction when asked directly, with just 26 in favour.
The meeting I attended had neither a councillor nor a police officer present which one would have expected given that there were significant road safety matters which required to be taken into account.
WDC’s education department has now recommended replacing the recurring £200,000 saving by swapping the council’s school travel permits for the Scottish Government’s national Under-22 free bus travel passes.
The report also recommends the retention of existing home to school travel arrangements.
Apart from their mixing up numbers and actual percentages, which is a well known and widely used way of avoiding the actuality, I can’t really disagree with that either.
Welcoming the news, Dumbarton councillor David McBride said: “This is a fantastic outcome for local residents, particularly those in Dumbarton West who would have been disproportionately affected by the proposal.
“I have always said that I will stand up for local residents and when OLSP was relocated to Bellsmyre I immediately got an assurance school transport from Dumbarton West will be protected.
“I am delighted to vote once again to ensure the school buses provision will continue for Dumbarton West pupils”.
I take it this is Cllr McBride admitting that the Labour decision from the outset to build Our Lady and St Patrick’s High School in Bellsmyre was wrong.
And that it has been proved to be misguided since they laid the first brick under the pylons at the foot of the Long Crags.
The truth of this bus transport matter is that it was badly handled from the outset. The sachool should never have been built where it is.
Cllr Jim Bollan, pictured right, of the Community Party hit the nail on the head when he commented: “”The Labour Council were forced into an embarrassing U-turn after they cut school bus transport for school children, many in primary schools.
“After a mandatory consultation required by law, 88% of respondents gave Labour the thumbs down to this potentially dangerous proposal.
That first meeting to discuss it with parents in OLSP was as shambles. No councillor of any shade of political opinion turned up and the two persons who went along explain matters to the parents hadn’t a clue what they were talking about.
The two principal speakers had one microphone between them and the explanatory visual aid was so far up the wall – about 20 feet up – that no one could read it.
The guy who was supposed to be the expert on roads appeared not to be familiar with the route of the alternative way to get to school for pupils from Renton.
The reports produced were the worst I have ever seen in 50 years of covering local government in Scotland and the Chief Education Officer looked far from pleased at being challenged on what was being proposed.
The whole exercise was a waste of valuable time and and public money.
Deputy Provost and vice-chair of the educational services committee, Councillor John Millar, pictured left, confirmed that the report, for what it was worth, contained no reasonable alternative routes for pupils walking from the areas affected.
That is because there are no safe and suitable walking routes to get to school for pupils from the areas affected.
He said: “I was worried for my constituents in the Leven Ward as, in my opinion, there weren’t any safe routes to school other than by bus so I’m really pleased with the outcome.
“It was important that we took the decision to review the schools’ transport arrangements but I’m really pleased that we can save the school bus service and at the same time make a £200,000 saving for the council.”
Now, how the Council is going to save £200,000 is a mystery and will remain a mystery until the Church Street communicators come up with a clear explanation that the pupils and their parents on the Bellsmyre bus can understand.
Is there a magic money tree in Dumbarton – just one magic tree that has not yet been cruelly chopped down like the ones at Garshake – from which an allegedly skint council have found this money?
If there is such a thing then I think it’s time we were told about it – by the spin doctors, of course.
It seems councillors in West Dunbartonshire have neither the courage nor the ability to speak for themselves.