Cllr Thomas Kerr represents Shettleston Ward on Glasgow City Council.
On May 2017, the Shettleston Ward of Glasgow voted for change. They wanted a fresh face who would bring them hope and deliver on promises made. A local champion who knows, cares, and loves the community, and for the first time in over 100 years, the candidate offering that was myself, as the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party candidate. Shettleston took a chance on me, and from the feedback I get on a daily basis, it isn’t a choice they regret.
Last month, another group of people took a chance on me, and I hope that, like my constituents, they’ll look back to see that it was the right choice. I speak, of course, of the Glasgow Conservative Group. Cllr David Meikle, Glasgow’s previous group leader, announced last month that he would be stepping down after 12 years at the helm of Glasgow Conservative politics. His dedication to our party when times were tough was outstanding, and his contribution to our group as our leader was amazing. However, family (the birth of his first child) and other work commitments meant that David had to take a step back. This led to a chance that I couldn’t give up, and thanks to the support of my council colleagues, I became Scotland’s (and I believe the UK’s) youngest Council Group Leader at age 22. This is an exciting time, and I want to share with you all my ideas and vision, not just for our group, but for my city.
Every leader can only do their job successfully with a team behind them, and before I set out my vision, let me thank the excellent team of Glasgow Conservative councillors I have who will help me in developing policies for the city in the run-up to our next election. From Cllr Tony Curtis, who will lead our fight against obesity, to Bailie Kyle Thornton, my business manager, but also environment spokesperson, who is leading the fight against the SNPs anti-car agenda in Glasgow. With a team as dedicated as mine behind me, the possibilities for the Conservative movement in Glasgow are endless.
However, while the Glasgow Conservatives see an opening for us, our city sees the door of opportunities close because of our out of touch SNP ‘City Government’. The administration in Glasgow is crumbling before our very eyes, and it is a sorry state of affairs for our city. Just 2 years into a promise of change, they’ve let down their supporters, the city, and their own councillors. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen two SNP councillors resign the whip over claims of bullying and harassment from the leader’s office, and leaked Facebook posts have shown that the council leader, Cllr Susan Aitken, says one thing in private and another in public. All this while they still continue to strangle investment and drive business away from our city.
The SNP’s cry in Glasgow was to be an administration which was “open”, “transparent”, and “for Glasgow”. But just two years in, these principles have been swept aside, and decisions are made behind closed doors with no consultation with any elected members. Despite their status as a minority administration, the SNP has unilaterally decided to scrap Glasgow’s airport rail link in the face of over a decade of promises to the people of this city. Their culture of secrecy means that legitimate freedom of information requests from members of the public, including those that wanted to know the full truth regarding the administration’s handling of the Ibrox fan-zone scandal amid allegations of bias, cannot tell the full story, because discussions regarding council policy are taking place on private SNP Facebook pages.
The SNP applauded a budget settlement from the Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, which saw Glasgow’s money get cut again, but pretended this was a fair deal for our city. The SNP in Glasgow should be our city’s champion within the SNP, yet all Aitken and her team are showing are that they are the SNP’s voice in the City Chambers – blinded by party loyalty and selling out our great city for hopes of a future career in Holyrood. I know the City Treasurer, Cllr Allan Gow, has said he reads my blogs on here so my message to you Allan is that it’s time you put our city first and the only way that can happen is by your leader resigning because not only does the opposition no longer have confidence in her but I believe your group doesn’t either.
Yet despite the backdrop of negativity coming from the leader’s office, the Conservative Group is hopeful. We have big ideas for our city and let me lay just a few of them here for you today. One of the issues very close to my heart is offering people from all backgrounds opportunities in life – the sort of opportunities that saw the son of recovering drug addicts become the Leader of the Glasgow Conservatives. That is why I took a motion to our full council meeting calling on Glasgow to become Scotland’s first local authority to sign up to Justine Greening’s Social Mobility Pledge and while we didn’t get to it on that occasion it is my intention to bring it again and get it passed because social mobility is exactly the sort thing the Glasgow Conservatives need to be standing up for.
While I am Group Leader I also have another title and that is our Group’s spokesperson on business and the economy something which, despite the possibilities Glasgow has, we are way lagging behind on. That is why as Group Leader I have called on the SNP Government to reduce business rates to give our small business owners a break. Times are tough for the retail industry and only by listening can we get it right. Over the summer recess, while other councillors will be relaxing, I will be using the time to tour our city and meet with the people on the ground from business and development backgrounds to hear first-hand the issues they face in our city and why Glasgow is lagging behind on investment compared to other large cities within the UK.
One of the major issues our city has is our planning department, which is out of touch and out of date. That’s why my two members on our city’s planning committee Cllr Robert Connelly and Cllr Tony Curtis are looking at ways of changing the structure of that committee to make it work better. But governance is not the only issues we face. Let me give you an example of where our city has got it just plain wrong. Like many other cities, Glasgow zones off pieces of land for certain types of development and whilst this approach has some merits it is clear that for some locations the policy is having the unintended consequence of strangling investment. I have spoken directly with another elected member who had a businessman want to invest and develop a hotel in our city down by the River Clyde yet the planning authorities said no because the piece of land has been zoned off for office space despite this land lying empty for nearly 20 years. Here we are in 2019 with a developer ready to go and we are saying no because of our out of date zoning policy. It is time Glasgow had another look at this and I hope my group will be a part of it.
In times like ours, business needs a champion and in Glasgow they simply don’t have it. Instead they have an administration too busy fighting amongst themselves to engage with the business community and a main opposition party which lacks the leadership to stand up to them. That’s why my group stands ready to do that job for Glasgow. Above I have outlined just two policy areas on which my Group will be leading from the front. Glasgow needs change, it deserves change and my pledge to the city is this my group will offer you that change.