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Paul Sweeney: Local communities are being let down by the budget

YESTERDAY, the Scottish Government’s Budget passed its first stage of the parliamentary process meaning it is likely that in the coming weeks further austerity will be handed down to local authorities across Scotland.

When it was unveiled before Christmas, it was widely condemned as the most disappointing budget in the 23-year history of the Scottish Parliament.

Despite coming at a time where the cost-of-living crisis was biting hard, it did nothing of any note for working families, for small businesses or for hard pressed local authorities providing public services.

At the exact time people needed their government to behave responsibly and help them, they were treated to a masterclass in spin and obfuscation; an exercise that presented massaged fiscal figures and forecasts as facts.

None more so than local authorities. On the face of it, they were told that they would receive an additional £500 million in funding, a figure heralded by the government as transformational.

In the cold light of day it was an increase of just £71m when ringfenced Scottish Government spending commitments were included, and a 4.9% decrease in funding when inflation is accounted for.

To put those figures into context, just weeks before the Budget was unveiled, Cosla, the governing body of Scotland’s councils, issued a warning that it would need an increase of £1 billion just to stand still.

Such is the gravity of the situation, council chiefs have now warned that almost 10,000 jobs could be cut as a result of the pitiful funding envelope they have received.

With local communities already cut to the bone, those are not jobs that we can afford to lose and could sound the final death knell in the services we all rely on.

In Glasgow, we are already seeing the impact of those funding cuts and recent documents released by Glasgow City Council show that further cuts of £68m are on the way, with consequences that don’t bear thinking about.

Despite the hard work and dedication of workers on the frontline our streets are littered with rubbish, our roads are full of potholes and our parks are a shadow of their former glory.

Our mental health services are in crisis, our schools are at breaking point and our public transport infrastructure is failing those who rely on it.

And worst of all, hundreds of charities and third sector organisations who are left to pick up the pieces when official services fail are now facing closure as funding from Glasgow City Council dries up.

It’s emblematic of everything that is wrong with the system; a system that treats vital organisations as though they are dispensable, without a second thought for those employed by them or those for whom they are a lifeline, and a system that treats funding applications like a beauty pageant – doling out money to the glitziest applicants instead of those making a real impact in their local communities.

We have seen it in recent weeks when the successful applicants for the Glasgow Communities Fund were revealed. Charities like Glasgow Food Train, The Coach House Trust, Possilpark People’s Trust and Kids and Adults Together Sighthill (KATS) were overlooked despite warnings that this could result in their closure while institutions like the Citizens Theatre were awarded hundreds of thousands of pounds even though they are able to generate their own revenue.

But it is not only Glasgow City Council that are guilty of treating funding for local communities and projects in such a way. This month we learned that Glasgow will not receive a penny from the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund, meaning that all seven projects put forward for funding applications will no longer progress.

The decision is a result of a last minute, cynical decision by UK Government ministers to change the rules, meaning any city that had received money from round one of the Levelling Up Fund was ineligible for funding in round two.

Once again local communities are being let down by a begging bowl culture arising from the centralisation of power and wealth.

If we truly have an ambition to become a more equal and prosperous society then we must prioritise overhauling that system and replace it with a system that devolves power and wealth to local communities; communities that know what works best for them and what they need to thrive.

Until that happens, we will be left with a society where inequality is entrenched and for as long as that is the case it will be local economies, local communities and local people who will suffer.

While Scotland’s devolution settlement could be improved, it is indisputable that we have one of the most extensive devolution settlements in the world, but we are failing to utilise it as a bulwark against Tory mismanagement.

We have seen the positive impact devolution can have when used effectively. In areas like Manchester and London, Labour mayors have introduced simple measures like capped fares on local transport services and prioritised the introduction of integrated ticket systems, all to the benefit of their local communities.

The same system could be used in Glasgow. The powers are there to be used but a lack of ambition within Glasgow City Council and a tendency to horde wealth in Holyrood means Glaswegians must go without.

Once again, Glaswegians are being let down and it cannot continue. For as long as it does, local communities, local businesses and local charities will continue to pay the price.

You can read my column on the Glasgow Times website here: Paul Sweeney: Local communities are being let down by the budget | Glasgow Times


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