The Labour Tory de facto coalition in West Lothian have voted through a series of eye watering cuts in West Lothian that target the most vulnerable in the county. Meanwhile the coalition of chaos decided they could afford to treat themselves to an all expenses paid jolly to Taiwan. I kid you not.
More on the Taiwan travesty shortly but first the cuts. The Labour and Tory councillors have voted through a swathe of cuts over the next 5 years. Now, it is entirely sensible to constantly assess the efficiency of the services you provide and identify areas where changes and optimisations can result in cost savings. What is also essential though as anyone in the private sector would testify, is the importance of impact assessments in order to assess the effects of the proposed changes. This is especially true in the public sector, when those changes are not merely of economical interest but social and environmental.
Essential due diligence is the part that has not happened. In fact at the council executive meeting when numerous question were posed by the SNP councillors trying to get detail on the cuts they were constantly given the same five word answer: ‘that information is not available’.
At an earlier meeting SNP attempts to debate planned Labour cuts below were shut down.
* the removal of 21 police officers,
* removing the right to care services for the elderly,
* the closure of three civic amenity sites and new charges for bulky uplifts and brown bins,
* the closure of community centres,
*the closure of the Ability Centre and the Eliburn Adult Training centre
* cuts to the Advice Shop and the voluntary sector
SNP council leader Cllr. Peter Johnston commented at the time,
“Local Trades Unions have already described the Labour/Tory budget process as “not fit for purpose”. They are absolutely correct. Despite the Accounts Commission calling on the Council to ensure that Councillors take the lead in determining priorities and scrutinising budget savings proposals to ensure that these are in line with agreed priorities, Labour and Tory councillors have yet again voted together to ensure that the details needed for councillors to do their job are blocked.
It is an absolute disgrace that the information we need to consider to make sure the council budget delivers the very best for our communities is being withheld. Labour and Tory councillors should be ashamed of themselves!”
So let’s look at a couple of examples of these cuts. One measure being implemented is to ‘Cease the taxi card scheme’ which is set for the chop from April. So let’s take a deep dive into the scheme.
In scrapping the Taxi Card service in West Lothian Labour and their Tory friends tell us that taxi card users have no worries they can use Dial a Ride instead.
So let’s look at a few facts.
- There are some 4000 registered taxi card users in West Lothian.
- Those who qualify are;
In receipt of Disability Living Allowance (High Rate Mobility Component or High Rate Attendance Allowance).
In receipt of war pension’s mobility supplement.
A permanent user of a wheelchair.
In possession of Blue Badge issued by West Lothian Council.
Age 85 or over and has a severe walking difficulty.
Suffer from dementia (must be certified by hospital authorities).
Suffer from a terminal illness affecting mobility (must be certified by General Practitioner or hospital).
Suffering from motor neurone disease (as certified by general practitioner)
Suffer from agoraphobia, as certified by Community Psychiatric Nursing Service (CPNS)
3 The card provides a subsidy of up to £3 a journey for 104 journeys a year.
As you can see from 3 above Taxi card users are clearly amongst our most vulnerable people.
So what about Dial a Ride alternative?
Dial a Ride operates 3 vehicles on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 2 vehicles on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Passengers have to register to use the service.
Registered passengers can have 2 advanced bookings at any one time, but you can also try for bookings on the same day or day ahead, although the availability of these bookings are subject to demand. It is advisable to give as much notice as possible.
2 vehicles operate an average of 9 hours per day and 1 vehicle 12 hrs per day. they have no set hours, passenger bookings determine start and end of shifts.
So it is clear that from having the ability to just phone a taxi the Labour/Tory decision to axe the Taxi Card means that 4000 of our most vulnerable people will now have to be reliant on securing one of three vehicles three days a week, 2 vehicles on Friday, Saturday or Sunday and they can forget going out on Mondays!
Labour/Tory see this as a service continuing as usual. This raises serious concerns with regards to the Equality Impact Assessment of this decision that will seriously impact on the quality of life of people we should be supporting not hammering!
Local resident Morag Davidson pointed out “Dial a Ride is not a substitute for the Taxi Card as it doesn’t offer free rail travel within West Lothian. Dial a Ride cannot take my disabled children to their home education activities, to medical appointments in Edinburgh or their disability support groups.
Another cut coming our way is to ‘Amalgamate the Lanthorn and Almondbank libraries into a central location in Livingston, move Carmondean library into the ability centre and close Pumpherston library to the general public.’. The grand total of Labours impact assessment consisted of this: ‘If customers respond positively to the consolidation of facilities, there will be no negative impact on performance and quality’. The chance of a positive reaction in the community are somewhere between zilch and none, obviously. More concerning still is the fact the 1st floor of the ability centre does not meet load requirements to host a library, therefore its not fit for purpose.
SNP Councillor Robert De Bold who is als a structural engineer stated:
“BS6399 design code load limits for offices is 200kg/sq m, a car park is 250, and a library is 400. I am concerned whether the 1st floor was designed for this”
Considering libraries are a traditional educational and social hub of the community this is a sever blow to the town. Livingston resident George Kerr intimated that “Livingston, a town of 60,000 people, is going to end up with two random, unfocused, small collections of books located in a poky section of unsuitable buildings.”.
There are many more cuts just as badly thought through as these.
The council budget has risen from 395M in 2017/18 to 406M for 2018/19. While I can fully appreciate that UK wide Tory austerity (that Labour happily voted for) coupled with an ageing population is straining critical resources to breaking point. However rather bizarrely, these cuts are being taken against a surplus of £1.7m underspend from last years budget.
Amazingly the coalition did not report this surplus at Tuesdays Council Executive meeting as a Labour councillor said ‘there was no precedent’ for doing this. How odd, considering right before this cross-party meeting Labour councillors had a private meeting to brief Labour councillors on the Council Executive agenda, including the report containing details of the £1.7m underspend!
This is from a council who proclaims its values – on every council report – as being “honest, open and accountable”. Hiding money to justify attacks on the poor while wasting more on foreign jaunts is a sickening waste of money and certainly not upholding their claimed values.
Now, about that Taiwan trip. Unbelievably against the backdrop of these life-changing cuts the coalition of chaos are jetting off to visit the Smart City Summit and Expo at the Taipei World Trade Centre Nangang Exhibition Hall. But guess what folks, the very same event takes place in April down the road in Manchester…for FREE!
West Lothian College who were set to include representatives on the jolly have had the good grace to withdraw their participation in the planned council jaunt to Taiwan. SNP Cllr Moira Shemilt said: “Good to see West Lothian College exercising a principled decision.”
So my understanding is that leaves three council representatives specifically 1 Labour councillor (Cathy Muldoon), 1 Tory councillor (Tom Kerr) and one officer going on this trip together. Given Labour are in bed with the Tories surely a double room is called for, although clearly they should not be going at all.
SNP Councillor Andrew Miller quipped, “Happy New Year to the People of China – and to the people of Taiwan, we are truly sorry we tried to stop them but Cathy Muldoon and Tom Kerr (Labour and Tory councillors) will soon be jaunting over to your country. Please feel free to keep them, our gift to you”
SNP Cllr Peter Johnson received the email below inviting attendance – free of charge– to the next Smart City Expo Conference. Not in Taiwan but in Manchester on 24th April. Peter commented:
“…makes the Labour/Conservative decision to spend thousands of public money sending three West Lothian delegates all the way to Taiwan all the more unbelievable!”
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Peter went on to say “So let’s get this straight. Labour/Con could have gone to the Smart City event in Manchester in April. But said NO! Instead Labour/Conservative have said YES please to attending the exact same event at a cost of thousands in Taiwan.”
Peter added “Presumably Labour/Tory were too busy planning to close council libraries and family centres, axe 21 police officers and our taxi cards and savagely cut our care services for the elderly and our NETs services? You could not make this up!”
To the many people of West Lothian who’s lives will be detrimentally affected by these savage cuts….be careful what you vote for next time.