Let’s start by being honest about what was before us at the Dundee City Council budget meeting last week. We had a deal which in January the whole council said was not fair for Dundee, despite the intervention of the Green Party it is still not a fair settlement for Dundee, for our citizens or for our workforce.
The blame for austerity lies in Westminster. Austerity is a choice made by the Conservative Government. It is passed on to Holyrood where the Scottish Government refuses to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to their full extent and passes on disproportionate cuts to local government. Dundee City Council is then left with a really poor set of circumstances which annoy councillors but which much more importantly have a real impact on the people of Dundee.
The staff of Dundee City Council do an excellent job. I hope that workers do get a pay rise, but we must also recognise that even if the settlements are more like the Scottish Government want around 3% and not what the trade unions are looking for, these still are not fully funded which means that they will have an impact on services. So we are in the bizarre position that a pay rise for workers means a cut in services.
I welcome the extra investment for vulnerable children in the budget. I hope that it does cover the cost pressures because it is unacceptable that year, after year, after year the budget in this area has been wrong. We need to get in right for these young people and make sure that they are given the best start in life.
The proposals put forward by the Labour Group were innovative and intended to use the powers of the council to make a difference in Dundee. They were intended to say that poverty and inequality are wrong and that we won’t just complain about it we will try and do something about it.
Last week the council heard the case eloquently put by representatives of the workforce in social care about the problems they face. I am glad that changes were not forced through and I am also clear that any proposal which imposes split shifts or cuts in hours is unacceptable.
Labour put forward a plan which would have allowed those social care workers to do the job they want to do. Allow them to spend longer with service-users and make a real difference to their lives. We thought that this extra funding could have focused on trying to stop hospital readmissions. The revolving door is good for no-one. We need to recognise that there is one public purse and cuts to the council which lead to extra spending in the NHS are daft.
We also proposed to bring forward a plan to give access to sports and cultural facilities to disadvantaged young people in the city. This is a big year for Dundee with the V & A opening and a focus on the city. With Dundee being lauded around the world. But this must be a big year for everyone in the city not just those who can afford it. We need to make sure that the regeneration of our city is for everyone and not just a privileged few. The Waterfront regeneration will be an abject failure if it doesn’t help everyone in the city.
We want to see fairness at the heart of what we do. That is why Labour wanted to halt the increase in the cost of school meals and at the same time invest in a fairness fund that would allow work to be done to find a means of delivering a good quality meal to disadvantaged youngsters all year round.
A number of SNP councillors said that they thought some of our proposals were interesting but they could not vote for them because they had not had enough time to analyse them. We offered them time at the meeting to analyse our proposals. We are prepared to give them to the SNP administration because we think that they will make a real difference to the city of Dundee. We are not even looking for credit for bringing these forward
We want to make a real difference and deliver a budget for the many not the few.