West Lothian anger over Covid recovery fund spending

Monday November 22nd 2021


West Lothian Council Headquarters at the West Lothian Civic Centre.

Written by Stuart Sommerville, Local Democracy Reporter

Almost £1.5m is to be spent across West Lothian through a Covid recovery fund. The money will be used to refresh and renew the physical environment in local neighbourhoods.

But councillors across the county are angry that only projects selected by council officers will be considered for spending by mid December.

And the proposal – which will give £150,000 to each of the nine council wards – scraped through a meeting of the council’s Executive by just one vote after Tories joined the SNP in opposition to the way it had been drawn up.

Core to their opposition was the fact that projects have been drawn up by council staff and that councillors and local communities will get no say other than choosing from a set of pre-determined options presented to them through the local area committees.

A list of proposed improvements will be presented to each Local Area Committee before 14 December. If the committee don’t make decisions the Executive meeting of late December will.

The individual improvements will focus on a number of subject areas such as: additional litter bins including smart bins, removal of unauthorised signage, restoration of paint and street furniture, planting and replanting on common land and urban spaces, repair and maintenance of walls and fences, work, including lighting, to improve community safety, reappointing of street and car park markings, cleaning of road edges, deep cleans including chewing gum removal and removal of street clutter.

Leading the opposition to the plans, Councillor Alison Adamson questioned why there would be no input from local members or groups – citing specific proposals in her Livingston North ward which would benefit from the extra spending.

She described the proposals for spending as work that should be carried out anyway as part of council maintenance programmes – or work that community groups would probably volunteer to carry out such as cleaning road signs.

“I’m not going to complain about money available. I am going to complain about the process money is getting sorted through. Does this process allow for community engagement requests and are officers going to liaise with members?”

Head of Planning Craig McCorriston said: “Given the time-scale, it will be led by officers.”

Councillor Frank Anderson, SNP depute group leader, compared the set up of the fund to the town centre funding in that local people, and local councillors had no control or input over the projects to be funded.

“Where is empowering communities in any of this process?” he demanded.

The council agreed this money in June and councillors were only being presented with a series of choices made by officers with a decision to be made before the end of December.

Councillor Chris Horne said: “Five months on, why has it taken so long to get to this stage?”

Conservative colleagues Charles Kennedy and group leader Damian Doran-Timson also question the lack of input from communities and local members. Councillor Kennedy reminded the meeting that the Bathgate committee could not make decisions on town centre spending because of conflict of interest.

He added: “I’m again concerned that in this short period that we have got that officers cannot consult with local members at all. To exclude ward members and community groups, and use historical or theoretical data is not acceptable.”

Councillor Doran-Timson said: “I’d welcome any funding into communities, but this is taking elected members out of the decision making process. I’m really not sure why it took five months – there’s nothing in here that wasn’t known back in June. There was no need for this paper to take so long to come back. This is not for the first example of the councillors being backed into a corner to have to take a decision. I am really disappointed in this.”

In a press release after the vote Councillor Frank Anderson said:

“We once again, saw an example of Labour ignoring the valid arguments to consult with councillors and the communities before the Local Area Committees decided how to allocate £150,000 additional funding given by the Scottish Government. Labour decided that the list would be drawn up by officers and councillors will only be able to vote on their suggestions from a ‘closed’ list of projects.”

After the meeting Lawrence Fitzpatrick, leader of the council said: “This funding will improve all council wards and have a significant positive impact on the physical environment within towns and villages across West Lothian and I am sure that this investment of £1.35 million will be warmly welcomed by local residents.

“Improving the local environment is one of West Lothian Council’s priorities and this is a significant amount of money that will leave a lasting impact on our local towns and villages.”

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