Gary Smith urges Scotland’s political elite to address the growing disconnect between themselves and ordinary
The snap general election has snatched the spotlight from the imminent local government elections in Scotland but the debate over the future of our local services should be one that goes to the very heart of the political discourse.
The last decade has been wretched for council services, jobs and pay. For dedicated public servants working across our councils, delivering the services on which our communities depend — the bin collectors, the home carers, the school cleaners — it’s been a decade of real-terms pay cuts and redundancies.
Scotland’s austerity shame is evidenced in our rubbish strewn neighbourhoods, pot holed roads, pit stop care services and crumbling civic amenities.
What else can you expect when Tory austerity in Westminster is accelerated by the Scottish government in Holyrood and into the budgets of our 32 local authorities?
In the case of local government jobs, our devolved parliament — partcreated to mitigate the chances of Thatcher-era industrial vandalism ever recurring in Scotland — is actually compounding our austerity misery. Local government job losses since 2010 stand at 45,000 and counting.
Many people across Scotland, particularly supporters of the SNP and the Green Party may not like hearing this inconvenient truth, but it is the truth.
Scotland’s political elite needs to step out of the Holyrood bubble. The growing disconnect between the new political class and the ordinary worker was evidenced earlier this year in the stand-off between GMB Scotland members in Glasgow City Council’s land and environment services and the Scottish government Finance Secretary Derek Mackay.
Sick of being on the receiving end of management’s deaf ear and increasing levels of public abuse over the city’s mounting rubbish, they exposed the squalid working conditions that have become part of their working lives as a result of £330 million worth of cuts to Glasgow’s budget over the last decade.
Twice they wrote to Mackay, inviting him to work a shift with them and see first hand Scotland’s austerity shame in backyard tenement collection areas, strewn with animal and human waste, used needles and dead rats. Twice Mackay refused to take up our members invitation, claiming a busy schedule and that local authorities like Glasgow receive “fair funding.”
The media exposure by our members’ campaigning efforts convinced the council leadership to invest £20m in land and environmental services, creating 140 new jobs to help restore the “dear green place” to a decent level of cleanliness.
But without a sea-change in Scottish government attitude and policy towards local government funding, the campaign of the Glasgow refuse workers will be nothing more than a moonbeam of success because with three years of real-terms cuts to the Scottish budget in the pipeline, the worst is yet to come.
That’s why one of the most pressing questions council candidates and Westminster hopefuls need to answer is this: How do you propose to fund local government jobs and services over the next five years?
This need for answers is real and pressing. It’s time for an honest debate about the future of Scottish local government.