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Paul Sweeney: Time to say enough is enough to council cuts

THIS week, Scottish Green Councillors in Glasgow decided to lobby opposition MSPs, challenging us to help them improve the city’s finances. It was a jaw-droppingly hypocritical manoeuvre and one that treats you, the people of Glasgow, as though you are fools.

As the Glasgow Times reported earlier this week, the Scottish Government has cut Glasgow City Council’s budget by around £500 million over the past ten years. That includes around £100 million this year alone, and the consequences are eye-watering.

And let us not forget that while the SNP have been in government for those ten years, the Scottish Greens have voted with them on the budget for the past six years and will do so again for a seventh time next month in the Scottish Parliament.

That is why I call their stance this week jaw-droppingly hypocritical.

Because rather than stand up to their party colleagues in Holyrood, two of whom are government ministers, they have tried to distance themselves from their decisions; decisions that will have devastating consequences in Glasgow.

In fact, in his column in this very paper, Councillor Jon Molyneux claimed that Labour MSPs sat on our hands and abandoned our local government colleagues.

The reality? Labour MSPs have consistently voted against proposed Scottish Government budgets on the basis that they have decimated the finances of local government while his party’s MSPs consistently vote for them.

Ultimately the people who will lose out are you, the people who live and work in our city. You will pay the price for government cuts, you will be forced to pick up the pieces of a broken system, and you will be made to put up with substandard services.

The truth is Glasgow’s funding settlement has been broken for a long time. It is a system that relies almost entirely on central government, with 80% of the city’s finances coming from Holyrood with the rest generated by the most regressive system of taxation we have, council tax.

That is why my Labour colleagues and I believe we need a complete restart. One that addresses the fundamental injustice of feast and famine economics, and one that puts power back in the hands of local councils and local communities.

Without that restart and reform, we will be stuck in a continuous cycle of permanent decline with more cuts every year.

This year we have seen that charities providing frontline services are having their money withdrawn, despite warnings that without council funding they will have to close their doors permanently.

And many of the services that they provide are needed now more than ever.

Earlier this week, following a Freedom of Information request, I revealed that calls to NHS 24 relating to mental health had skyrocketed by almost 600% in four years; and that over the same period, the number of calls that have gone unanswered has risen by an eye watering 6200%.

Imagine that was you, a member of your family or a friend calling central services for help and being ignored while local organisations that you may have turned to previously now no longer exist due to continued cuts. That is a real life, irrefutable consequence of continued cuts to our public services and to our local government budgets.

The knock-on impact is huge, and none more so than on our NHS.

With levels of delayed discharge from our hospitals at the highest levels ever recorded and A&E waiting times reaching new heights, primarily caused by a lack of beds in hospital due to increases in delayed discharge, the need to ensure local health and social care partnerships have adequate funding has never been starker.

After all, they are responsible for administering social care in our communities. Given how intrinsically linked health and social care are, any cuts to one will have unthinkable adverse impacts on the other.

That point takes us to the very heart of the problem. We have an economy run by accountants, rather than economists.

For too long, we have watched as numbers are blindly cut from spreadsheets in an attempt to make ends meet without a second’s thought for the potential wider impact.

The Government are the first to take a red pen to mental health budgets without an acknowledgement of the consequences for our acute NHS services; the first to decimate council budgets without an appreciation of the repercussions for the incomes of families or businesses; and the first to plunder education and skills budgets without an acceptance of the ramifications for our economy in the coming years.

That simply cannot continue – our communities and unable to take any more.

It is time to end the continued doom cycle of cuts and austerity.

It is time to invest in our people, invest in our communities, and invest in our industries.

It is time to say enough is enough.

You can read my column on the Glasgow Times website here: The Glasgow Times Columnists


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