STOP PRESS: The Labour Group on West Dunbartonshire Councillor last night Wednesday disgracefully decided to close Balloch Library despite vigorous protests from the community. Look out for a full report at the weekend.
Who do you think you are? Arrogant councillors have decided to shut people up
NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
EMPOWERMENT. Now there’s a word you will seldom see in a raft of Council minutes. It’s about involving people, taking note of what they say and paying attention when it comes to making important decisions.
I noticed it cropped up more than once in West Dunbartonshire Council’s fairy-tale annual performance report. That is the one that would have us believe that most people who live in this area are happy with the public services provided by the Council.
The truth of the matter is contained in a report in the Lennox Herald which states that almost 1,500 people have signed a petition against the closure of Balloch Library.
I say closure, their spin doctors and the elected members, who employ them for a whacking £500,000 a year or thereabouts, say relocation.
Anyway, their cost-cutting plans, which West Dunbartonshire Council’s Labour administration have already approved, will once again come before the Council in the Burgh Hall at 16 Church Street, Dumbarton, this evening at six o’clock.
The meeting tonight will involved the suspension of standing orders, which means the Balloch Library issue can be discussed within six months of it being raised initially.
So, someone in the Labour Group has taken a nose bleed. They are feart to impose this measure which would save the Council a measly £50,000 a year. It will cost them votes – lots of votes at the upcoming elections.
They have disgracefully decided that it is worth it to move the services currently provided at the Library in Carrochan Road across the street to the Balloch primary schools campus.
What’s worse, they refused to allow the public protesters – they allowed only 30 of them into the public gallery because, when they designed it, they considered that only a small number of people would have any interest in anything they had to say. How right they were.
Disgracefully in what is supposed to pass for democracy, they turned away protesters complete with placards, young mothers with babies and toddlers, elderly residents and angry sympathisers, and refused them permission to address them.
These ordinary people have made it clear why it would be a huge loss to their deprived community to have Balloch Library closed and for them then to be squeezed into the Balloch campus.
And, anyway, what’s “a saving” of £50,000 when you consider the £millions that are wasted – and about to be wasted – when you see the plans for the Dumbarton Town Centre regeneration project which, ironically, includes a library and museum in Glencairn House.
The artist’s impression of what Dumbarton Quay will look like if and when that’s complete is proof positive that council taxpayers here are being duped. The pub beer garden and the bookie’s shop will not disappear once the library arrives.
Did nobody tell the councillors, or the expensive consultants who prepared the annual performance report, that a similar project in the old town hall at Clydebank has been an abject failure?
That the public are not the least bit interested in having another white elephant in town and are content to travel to Glasgow and Edinburgh to visit art galleries and museums. It’s the 21st century after all.
Now, the Lennox Herald tells us, the body that advises the Scottish Government on libraries has outlined concerns over plans to co-locate Balloch Library with the village’s education campus
The local protesters want Labour to reverse plans to move Balloch Library to Balloch Campus – which is already home to Balloch Primary, St Kessog’s Primary and an early learning and childcare centre.
They have concerns over safety with the general public sharing a building with two primary schools and an ELCC, and have outlined doubts that the Balloch Campus would have space to accommodate a full library.
Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) has revealed their worries over a lack of consultation with the Council which has a track record, under both Labour and the SNP, for ignoring the voting public’s wishes.
Faced with a petition with more than 1,000 signatures from people demanding to keep their GP in post at Dumbarton Health Centre, they chose to go through with their decision to close his practice. Their decision was overturned by an Employment Tribunal.
They sacked a disabled member of staff, another decision that was thrown out by an Employment Tribunal and – after Councillor Martin Rooney intervened – they agreed to drop a police probe into their officials wining and dining with contractors who were seeking to win lucrative council contracts.
No such thing as empowerment there then. The big question tonight (Wednesday) will be whether the out of touch councillors will do a U-turn and keep Balloch Library open.
When the meeting convenes, the town clock on Riverside Church will be heard chiming six times.
But for whom will the bell toll? Will it be for Martin Rooney and the Labour Group?
Pamela Tulloch, CEO of SLIC, certainly hopes the status quo will be be maintained.
She says: “Balloch is a very popular community library, providing quality services to an active and literate community.
“It also serves nearby areas of significant deprivation and any reduction in service will be felt most keenly by those already struggling with the cost of living and social/digital exclusion.
“SLIC wants to understand how this proposal, where the library offer is significantly reduced, will serve the needs of this wide user base?”
She continued: “SLIC is concerned about the space available for the public-facing facility and also the fact that the proposal is a significant reduction in library service offered to the local community.
“We also note that there has been no public consultation on the proposal, indeed the community is against the plan.”
Commenting, SNP Spokesperson for Infrastructure, Regeneration and Economic Development, Councillor Jonathan McColl, said: “The SNP group in West Dunbartonshire very much share the concerns of the SLIC – many of which we have raised ourselves but fall on the deaf ears of the Labour administration.
The hypocrisy of the SNP in this controversy has been exposed for all to see. They joined a photo call with the protest group outside the Burgh Hall and then declined to second the motion by Cllr Jim Bollan of the Community Party which would have given them a hearing.
They had this to say about empowerment though: “It is scandalous that Labour thought that they would get away with making such drastic decisions behind closed doors and without any engagement with residents, especially as these proposals will impact the most vulnerable who will already be struggling with the impacts of the cost of living crisis.”
Significantly, Labour leader of WDC, Councillor Martin Rooney, was unable to provide a comment to the Lennox Herald, which says everything and nothing about where his party stands on this.
Remember, the meeting in the Burgh Hall at Church Street starts at 6pm on Wednesday, October 8.