Council leader Martin Rooney has criticised the First Minister for “lack of leadership”.
By Bill Heaney
Council tax may be one big yawn for Martin Rooney and his cronies on the Council, but it keeps an awful lot of people awake at night worrying about how they are ever going to afford to pay it.
According to recent reports West Dunbartonshire Council could face a £70 million deficit. That’s three times more than the £20 million gap which had to be filled by hugely unpopular cuts before the last council budget.
Next time round those cuts are almost certain to remain in place unless Martin Rooney and his colleagues on the Labour administration can find a money tree down Levengrove Park.
One would have thought there would have been pats in the back all round when First Minister Humza Yousaf made a pledge during the party’s conference that council tax would remain frozen for every household in Scotland.
Cllr Rooney, who doesn’t like to see his remarks reported here, came up with the “£70 million by 2028” at a council meeting in Dumbarton last Wednesday, where a group of protesters, most of them women and children from his own Lomond Ward, were campaigning against cuts they said would hurt them deeply.
Unbelievably, the Labour council refused to give them an audience for their “urgent question” and decided the matter could stick to the wall until such times as they were prepared to hear it.
Or at a time when there was no football on the television.
Martin Rooney said the First Minister’s out of the blue announcement showed “a failure of leadership and an act of sheer desperation” and says the move “has now taken away our primary way of raising funding locally.”
Touch of the pot calling the kettle black there, I would have thought.
When they were beaten in the local government election two years ago, the SNP flung a hospital pass at Labour as a valedictory gesture, a package of budget cuts including their notorious decision to keep grass cutting to a minimum, cut bin collections, close community centres and much more.
Labour’s version of the Sword of Damocles stands ready to fall on even more services since at the budget come April they will be left staring down the barrel of an estimated £17.2 million gap which some doomsayers believe is estimated to rise to £48.6 million by 2028/29.
Best and worst case scenarios for the 2028/29 budget are that the council would face a £35 million black hole and that this could soar to an unthinkable £72.4 million.
West Dunbartonshire voters can put the kettle on for a similar gap to this financial year. That £20 million figure won’t go away. Would the last person to leave please remember to switch off the lights?
How to solve this crisis then? SNP leader Karen Conaghan made me laugh – it’s not much fun sitting through a council meeting – when she suggested that instead of leaving our parks and public places in the dreadful state they are in following the SNP decision not to cut the grass should be handed over to the public to create allotments.
Councillor Rooney said: “I want a proper funding settlement from the Scottish Government so that we can protect services and jobs, and which allows us to give our workers a pay rise that recognises and reflects the contributions they make to our communities.
“Scottish councils have struggled with years of under-funding from the Scottish Government which led to huge funding gaps, service reductions and job losses.
“Councils like West Dunbartonshire have been affected more than most as we don’t have a strong economic base and are therefore limited in what we can do to protect jobs and services.”
Excuse me, Councillor Rooney, you have just published a (very expensive fairy tale) annual performance report which claims the exact opposite in large type stating that West Dunbartonshire Council has a strong economic base.
And that the majority of the people in this area are content with the services they receive from the Council.
Now there’s my second laugh of the day.
Perhaps at last he has found a use for the bandstand in Levengrove Park where on Sunday night a local band will be hired to play Believe it if YOU LIKE.
The Council will be paying for the fireworks, of course. It seems they have money to burn. Our money.
People in higher banded houses are already paying far too much council tax. The SNP promised to reform council tax but of course they never did. If WDC provides fewer services they should reduce their headcount accordingly, according to Sean McFall, who is a regular contributor to social media.
Sean got his usual few “likes” for his comments, but Billy McEwan responded sarcastically – “Aye canny beat a bit o’ redundancy!”
Sean McFall hit back: “Billy McEwan, the sole function of a local council is to provide services to the population in an efficient manner at the lowest cost possible. The council is not a charity creating cosy jobs for union members. Workers in the real world get paid off when a company runs out of money or there is a fall in demand for their goods or services. Why should it be any different for council workers?”
Sean McFall, who is no relation so far as I know to the esteemed Speaker of the House of Lords, replied: “You’re overlooking the shortage of cash to pay for the services.
“Of course the alternative is to improve the efficiency of local councils and cut the dire sickness absence rate. WDC is legendary for wasting our money and poor services. No you’re the one overlooking the supposed shortage of cash. You are changing your argument. Went from the fall in demand when there is none to lack of cash. Poor services come from a lack of investment and protection of said services.
“There are at least two circumstances where workers in the real world get paid off i.e. a fall in demand OR the company running out of cash. I agree that there has been no fall in demand because there never will be for services that far too many people regard as “free”.
“There is however a severe limit on the cash available because there aren’t enough people in work creating wealth and paying tax. In the case of most local councils poor services are a result of very bad management and a culture of a job for life no matter what. If WDC is going to reduce bin collection to once every three weeks then they obviously have to cut the number of bin men.”
So, there you have it. I knew the bin men would have to get a mention. They nearly always do.
A few more folk wanted to get a word in.
Eddie Kelly’s view is that we are paying more than people living in London. “Clearly the finances of the council have been mismanaged over the last few decades…who is held accountable?”
Andy Churchill told him: “WDC has never been particularly well run, no matter who was in charge, but I’m pretty certain that COSLA have stated that council funding across Scotland has been quite significantly cut by Holyrood. So,apart from raising council tax (during a cost of living crisis), I am not quite sure what any council can do except cut services?”
Andy produced this conundrum: “So, Westminster is to blame for cutting funding to Holyrood BUT Holyrood is NOT to blame for cutting the funding to the council(s)?”
It’s a complicated game politics. I’m sure we’ll see a great deal more of this kind of thing before the pantomime season is over.
By the way, they let me into the council meeting in the Burgh Hall last Wednesday night. I was delighted to be in the company of protesters from Balloch, mainly women of course, who have the gumption to stand up to the councillors who are going to close their local library and move it across the road to the primary school campus, which isn’t big enough and isn’t safe enough for the children at the schools.
I felt sorry for these ladies. They behaved impeccably. They even took the poles off their banners without a quibble. Who ever came up with the idea to save money by closing the library has no idea what is means to this community which is one of the most deprived in West Dunbartonshire.
“We may be deprived out here, but we are not daft. The council must have lots of choices about where they will save this money. They are taking us for mugs and we don’t like it. Why didn’t they listen to us? This will not be forgotten by the community here.”
Brain health in people aged 50 or over deteriorated more rapidly during the pandemic even if they did not contract Covid, according to a new study.
Researchers have identified a link between the coronavirus pandemic and sustained cognitive decline.
The study, published in the journal The Lancet Healthy Longevity, involved more than 3,000 people aged between 50 and 90, with all participants based in the UK.
The researchers examined computerised brain function tests from participants, testing short-term memory as well as the ability to complete complex tasks.