Cllr Thomas Kerr represents Shettleston Ward on Glasgow City Council.
Last Thursday was arguably the most important day in Glasgow City Council’s diary, budget day. This was a historic day for a number of reasons. It was the first minority administration budget for 38 years and it was the first big test for the SNP to see if they could “deliver for Glasgow”.
Yet what we saw was a backroom deal with the Green Party to ensure that the budget passed; a process which saw no opposition member get a copy of the budget until we went into the chamber – and it was full of unnecessary cuts, secret charges, and a rise in council tax. As our group leader said, on transparency and openness, this SNP administration’s attitude really is, “meet the new bosses, they’re just like the old ones”.
The council elections last year saw the overthrow of almost four decades of Labour dominance and despite being a minority administration, we were promised fresh ideas and a new direction by the SNP. However, what we’ve seen from last week’s budget is that they are full of broken promises and empty rhetoric.
Take childcare for example: the SNP talk a good game on affordable childcare for pre-school children, however while at Thursday’s meeting we were lectured by one councillor on “Tory” child poverty she neglected to mention that their party in Glasgow just doubled childcare costs at community nurseries throughout the city. So much for “Stronger for Scotland” and a “fresh start for Glasgow”.
Another SNP councillor stood up and claimed their budget was about communities, but failed to mention that they were transferring four community venues, shutting down an outdoor school facility, and voting against a very reasonable proposal from the Scottish Conservatives to build a new Accord Centre for adults with learning difficulties and disabilities, which is something long-promised to residents in the East End. They claim to support community empowerment and in their manifesto promised to give £1 million to each ward in Glasgow, but that promise never made it into their budget last week.
They claimed this was a business friendly budget, but they increased parking charges across the city and introduced charges for parking on a Sunday. This may harm retail businesses across the city, who could lose custom to out of town shopping centres.
They promised to stand up for Glasgow, but raised Council Tax by three per cent, hitting hard working families across the board, just after their colleagues at Holyrood increased income tax on many of the same people and breaking a key manifesto pledge in the process.
As I’m sure our City Treasurer, Cllr Gow, will be reading this, I didn’t vote against investment for Glasgow. My party and I proposed a budget that delivered investment into front-line services, while not increasing the council tax. I’d say we were arguing for our manifesto commitments which elected the largest group of Conservative councillors to the city chambers in many years.
You see friends, our budget was both inspiring and radical. We were able to propose a cut in council waste and invest in front line services; while trying to defend hard pressed taxpayers against another raid on their wallets by the SNP.
Glasgow City Council had a spending gap of £20.8 million for next year. It’s the tenth consecutive year that Glasgow’s budget has been cut by the SNP Scottish Government, but Conservatives on the council were able to work with council officers to offer an alternative that actually added up.
Our budget contained proposals to deliver on my manifesto commitments, such as a £350,000 to improve road safety by investing in a new pedestrian crossing at Mount Vernon railway station, money for a town centre regeneration fund to boost local high streets like Shettleston Road, a new community Accord Centre at £9 million, which was so cruelly ripped from our community by the previous Labour administration to make way for Commonwealth Games infrastructure, as well as £8 million for roads, £2 million for pavements, £1.5 million for street lighting, protecting 134 cleansing jobs, and investment into our parks and green spaces.
Education in Scotland used to be the envy of the world. However, after ten years of SNP Government, we’ve seen a decline in standards and the attainment gap widen. That’s why our budget proposed £5.7 million for our education system, to invest in our teaching staff and materials they need to deliver an inspiring curriculum. We also wanted to deliver for the most vulnerable in society, by helping them to achieve their potential.
The Conservatives offered a sensible, costed budget that would deal with some of Glasgow’s problems. For too long, there has been a cosy left-wing consensus in the city chambers which has forgotten that it is taxpayers who pay for our public services. In everything we do, we need to remember that value for money is extremely important. Take our PR Team – it costs council tax payers over £800,000 per year. We proposed a 30 per cent cut, which we believed was both possible and desirable to divert resources to more pressing front-line services. Every year we hear that local authorities have to cut to the bone and every year they find the savings necessary to live within their means. As Conservatives, we will work to ensure that in Glasgow City Council the SNP are held to account for the money they spend – and that someone will always be there to speak up for the taxpayer.
This was a test for the SNP and their backers in the Green Party to see if they really would stand up and champion Glasgow. In my view, they failed. Labour’s opposition budget was just as bad; pie in the sky figures from their group leader who speaks Corbynomics but is a Blairite at heart. Labour has still not come to terms with losing their ‘jewel in the crown’ of Scottish local government and from their contribution to the budget debate last week, they still have some way to go. Scottish Conservative councillors are providing the strong, effective opposition to the SNP that Glaswegians want and deserve.
Friends, later this week I will travel to Aberdeen to attend the Scottish Conservative conference. I’ll have a spring in my step, because I know it’s our party that is leading the fight against the SNP, both in Scotland and in Glasgow. Ruth Davidson’s job at this conference is to show that our party is an alternative government and our job in Glasgow is to demonstrate that Conservatives have the ideas to grow Glasgow’s economy, invest in our infrastructure, and ensure that our city continues to compete on the world stage. Some people may laugh when you say a Conservative administration could be Glasgow’s next choice, but hey, some laughed when I said I could win in Shettleston. I, along with my superb colleagues in Glasgow, will continue to fight for what we believe is in the interests of ordinary hard-working Glaswegians; because right now, we’re the only party within Glasgow City Chambers providing any real opposition to the SNP.