12/12/2017

Fair Funding for Essential Services

On Monday night at the council's Policy & Resources Committee there was an item setting out where the council is in terms of budgets.  The UK Budget was announced last month and the Scottish Budget will be announced in Holyrood on Thursday of this week.

The report  produced by the council's Executive Director of Corporate Services suggests that over the next three years the council may need to cut as much as £70 million from our budgets.  This is a frightening prospect, this would have an impact, as previous cuts already have had, on people right across Dundee and on the health of the economy of our city.

The Conservative Group put forward an amendment which laid the blame for the financial situation at the door of the SNP Scottish Government.

The truth, of course, is somewhat different.  The UK Government has chosen the path of austerity.  A political choice by the Conservative Government.  The Scottish Government has largely acted as a conveyer belt for austerity and passed on Tory cuts especially to local government. A political choice by the SNP Government.

On behalf of the Labour Group I made clear that we would be looking to work with anyone to protect jobs and services in Dundee.  Comment was made last night that the Conservative amendment was merely designed to embarrass the SNP.  I do hope that the Conservatives were not just trying to embarrass the SNP and I also hope that the SNP's biggest issue is not to avoid being embarrassed.  I made the point that this is much more important than petty point scoring.  Decisions made at the Budget in Dundee City Council have a real impact on the lives of real people in Dundee.  This is far too important to play games with.  All of us who are councillors have a duty to do what we can to deliver the best outcome to the people of Dundee.

COSLA, the Scottish local government body, has put forward a very interesting case for council's delivering essential services.  I think too often we are apologetic about what local government does. As COSLA say local government is democratically elected and provides a breadth of essential services to Dundee's communities which; support and protect all in our society; tackle inequalities; promote a fairer Scotland through inclusive growth; local government creates opportunities for every citizen which strengthen communities.  Local Government in Dundee is a key economic driver in the city and we should not be ashamed of that we should rather celebrate this.

The Leader of the Council said that he had already made representations to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance about the deal for Dundee.  I welcomed that and asked that he, in the spirit of openness and transparency, share the representations he has made.

The Labour Group is clear that we will work to achieve the best outcome for our city, we will work with other parties on the council and outwith the Council Chamber with trade unions and the communities of Dundee to deliver the best deal we can aimed at protecting jobs and services.

Last night we saw an early outbreak of 'it wisnae me' syndrome, with the Conservative Group in denial about the impact of ongoing austerity on the people of Dundee and likewise the SNP Group in denial about the impact of the conveyor-belt of austerity that the Scottish Government has become.

It is ironic, of course, that the Scottish Government has so-far refused to use the full powers of the Scottish Parliament to provide more resources for local government yet it is the same Scottish Government which complains about councils who didn't use their full powers to raise the Council Tax by 3% last year.  Those councils who didn't use their full powers include the then SNP-majority-led Dundee City Council who pushed through a 2.5% increase despite there being a proposal from Labour to increase the Council Tax by 3%.

The Labour Group will work with others to deliver the best deal for Dundee but we need the other parties to be bold and ambitious for Dundee.  We need the other parties to be prepared to stand-up to their political masters in Holyrood or Westminster and put the interests of Dundee first.

I am clear, as are my Labour colleagues, that we were elected to deliver the best services we can for the people of Dundee.  That is out priority.  We are not mere pawns in political game of chess.  Our duty is to do what we think is best for Dundee not what we think will please our political parties or go down well at a party meeting .

Labour is up for the challenge and we hope that all other councillors are as well.