Cllr Thomas Kerr represents Shettleston Ward on Glasgow City Council.
It won’t be a surprise to many of you reading this today that times are tough, especially for local government. As budgets get tighter our services get strained and in Glasgow that is the position we find ourselves in as we draw ever closer to the council’s budget on 21st February.
So what are the options facing our city and how did we get here. The story begins as all major economic failures do with a previous Labour administration and, while normally that saying is used to pivot the blame, this time the finger is pointed and extremely accurate.
In 2006 Glasgow took the decision to bring in a new pay and grading scheme – a scheme I may add which was supported by officers, unions and the opposition parties. Its introduction however, created more problems than it solved and to cut a long story short we ended up in a position where the new system disproportionately penalised female workers. The council and trade unions fought this in the courts for years and while Labour, the beacon of equality that it claims to be, refused to settle it was left to the new intake of 2017 councillors to sort out their mess. Glasgow’s budget this year and for years to come must find a way of paying out around £500 million in equal pay settlements, money which these women are entitled to but which will leave us having to face many tough decisions in the years ahead.
The Scottish Government would love nothing more than to be able to blame Glasgow’s financial problems on the previous Labour Administration – for as we know there is nothing the SNP like more than to engage in grievance politics and play the blame game. This time however they can’t. Despite their claim that “Tory Austerity” is the cause of all of Scotland’s problems, the reality is that the SNP mismanagement of Scotland’s public purse is endangering the public services upon which my constituents rely. Nicola Sturgeon and Derek Mackay have decimated local government budgets throughout the country and the blame for this lays squarely at their door. Combined with the equal pay bill, these cuts are set to devastate local services.
Scotland’s block grant has been rising in recent years but the SNP are still cutting council budgets, why? It’s because they have no respect for the services that councils like Glasgow deal with. Enough is enough, this isn’t the “Westminster Tory Government’s” fault this is yours First Minister and it is about time you and your Government accept some responsibility. This Scottish Government should hang its head in shame for the complete contempt in which they hold Scotland’s local authorities. As a Glasgow MSP, Nicola Sturgeon’s apathy towards the city is evident on a daily basis – and her cohort of councillors are scarcely any better. Glaswegians expect their governing party in the City Chambers to be fighting our corner but in this administration, we see the exact opposite.
The Council Leader, Cllr Susan Aitken, is not Glasgow’s voice in the SNP and she never has been. Rather she is the SNP’s cheerleader in Glasgow and that must change.
That brings me to the now – Glasgow is facing a £50.9 million shortfall to makeup and the options we are now seeing include higher council tax for fewer services that just isn’t on. The makeup of Glasgow City Council means two parties need to come together to agree on a budget. Glasgow Conservatives were elected to oppose the SNP’s obsession with Scottish Independence and we will continue to do so every step of the way. Given the financial circumstances that have been imposed on Glasgow, we’ve made clear five key priorities for any budget that we would need to see in any budget for us to consider supporting. These are:
- Safeguarding addiction/homelessness services: We believe in protecting the most vulnerable in our society – and that includes those suffering from addiction and those who find themselves homeless. We are therefore asking the administration to protect and enhance funding towards these vital services.
- More investment in our roads/pavements: Our city is heavily reliant on roads and pavements to ensure not only that Glaswegians can get to work and live their lives but also to make sure that visitors to Glasgow enjoy the transport links that a world class city deserves. The Conservatives are therefore calling on the Administration to use capital funding to bring our road network up to a standard fit for the modern age.
- Taking the non-residential parking levy off the table: Removing the current threat of the administration introducing a non-residential parking levy. Such a proposal would hurt business, workers and commuters and is completely unacceptable. For any talks to be serious the SNP administration must take this proposal off the table.
- More support for small businesses: Small businesses are the backbone of any economy – especially Glasgow’s. However, under Susan Aitken’s leadership, small businesses have not had a champion within the city chambers. We are offering the administration a chance to reverse this record by supporting small businesses and changing a culture that is driving investment away from our city.
- A council tax freeze: Over the past couple of years Glaswegians have seen their income and council tax bills rise. We say enough is enough. No more should Glasgow’s taxpayers have to foot the bill for SNP spending cuts to local government. Our constituents have seen increases in their taxes but no improvement in local services. This is why Conservatives are standing up for hard-working families by opposing any further increase in council tax at February’s budget.
Glasgow Conservatives are showing the SNP, Labour and Green Parties what effective opposition looks like. For too long Glasgow politicians have been ducking the hard decisions. Our five priorities are common sense and realistic and we would urge the administration to take them seriously and engage constructively. We as a party believe in a common sense approach to dealing with our city’s problems that is why we are willing to find common ground on issues for the greater benefit of all Glaswegians.