Toeing The Party Line


Posted by in May's Magazine

An urgent communiqué from Our Man in the City landed on my desk just before going to print. We had no space. However, I judged it to be of more immediate interest than my, ahem, observations. So, here you go – Editor.

‘Your Council has just passed a budget that contains cuts of £34m for 2018/19. This is on top of cuts made over the last 5 years of £240m and the loss of 1446 workers. Audit Scotland in its report points out that the Council will receive £59m less in the block grant from the Scottish Government over the next 5 years. It will also have to make a further £133m of cuts in the same time scale. This is why Audit Scotland uses the phrase ‘financial stress’ to describe the state of council finances in Scotland.

Share:

Share on TumblrTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on StumbleUponShare on RedditDigg thisEmail this to someone

The need for change, recognised by Scottish Government/Cosla’s Just Change report, launched in December 2015, has not had a shelf life beyond its press releases. Yet the need for the change it advocates was brought before Councillors and Council officers in the City Chambers by the trade union delegations on Budget day.

They talked of Council workers doing more work with fewer workers, causing stress and strain on both performance and the health of workers. This will only increase as the pressures of demographics, inflation, pay rises and funding the City Deal, impact on Council services. As the Unison deputation pointed out, the Scottish Government has not fully funded the pay rise it expected Councils to pay workers. The gap between the pronouncement and the provision by the Scottish Government left over 25% of the pay deal unfunded. The cost of this would be met by service reduction.

The need for it was acknowledged in debate by the Finance Convenor who said, “This was a major topic at a recent conference I attended which discussed the state of Council finances.” Acknowledged too by the Council Leader when he said he would make “robust representations” to the Scottish Government. Yet to date we have only had timid tweets toeing the party line and blandishments that Edinburgh’s settlement from the Scottish Government was ‘positive’, when the cuts imposed were in reality less deep than expected but cuts none the less.

There is an alternative. Labour has pointed out that the Scottish Government could use its powers to raise £960m. The Unions Congress said that Holyrood could use its powers and raise £800m. Both amounts are larger than the £545m that Cosla said Councils needed for ‘stand still’ budgets this year. The overriding point is; Holyrood has powers to effect change but has used these in a limited way.

In their analysis of the draft budget the STUC observed that: “The failure to use the Scottish Parliament’s powers ambitiously is clear. The income tax proposals fail to raise sufficient revenue and the modest additional revenues raised primarily fund tax cuts for business. This suggests a worrying lack of commitment to properly resourcing public services and a misunderstanding of the best way to support the economy by the Scottish Government.”

This failure by Holyrood to use its powers to fully and properly fund Councils will see the cuts avoided this year come back onto the table in future years. The solution is there on the shelf endorsed by both the Scottish Government and Cosla. Just Change is what councils need but a Scottish Parliament that conducts itself like a student debating society with all the depth of twitter has shown no appetite to implement it. Just Change or keep cutting councils? The choice is theirs the loss is ours’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *