Great Britain

Time to break with a Scottish government that doesn't work for us

THIS afternoon the SNP will outline its 13th Budget.

The first 12 have left Scottish local government on its knees, struggling to deliver the local services that communities demand and need.

All indications are that this afternoon is unlikely to be Lucky 13, and that disconnect between Scotland’s Parliament and Scotland’s public services will continue to grow.

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

Devolution was sold to us as a means to deliver the opposite — to bring decision-making and power closer to the people as opposed to remote Westminster.

The tragedy is that Scotland is more centralised now than it was before devolution.

Holyrood has taken power away from local authorities and communities alike, and devolved only responsibility for the cuts it chooses to make each year.

It is that disconnect between decisions and responsibility that has allowed the SNP to hammer local government in every one of its previous 12 Budgets.

And it has allowed them to avoid blame for falling standards in Scottish education, the crisis in our NHS, the Edinburgh “sick kids” fiasco, the ferry contract mess and the damage being inflicted on Scots through the rise in drug deaths, homelessness and as reported only yesterday more people dying on our streets.

The SNP has used Scotland’s Parliament as a means to hold as much political power as possible while holding as little responsibility as possible for actually delivering the high-quality public services Scotland needs.

Instead Scotland’s councillors, and increasingly our health boards too carry the can every day for decisions that are made by the Scottish government in Edinburgh.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at centralising behaviour from a party whose focus is on nation-building, but we in the Scottish Labour Party too must face facts.

The party of devolution itself, over the past two decades, forgot how to trust communities and then scratched its head as the favour was returned in spades.

If the Scottish Labour Party is to win back that trust, to hold the failing SNP government to account, or indeed to have a future at all, it must come to terms with the fact that our party became remote, managerialist and obsessed with the twin bubbles of Holyrood and Westminster intrigue while the world moved on — and regularly read of our internal debates in the newspapers via a culture of harmful leaks and briefings.

The communities we were founded to protect need a Labour Party capable of holding the SNP government to account for its draconian cuts to their services. Unless we are the communities once more, we risk oblivion.

When the SNP outlines its Budget this afternoon offering only another round of cuts, we must call it out for what it is. These aren’t cuts to “councils,” these are cuts to the services each of us rely on.

These are cuts to our children’s education, to the care services provided to our most vulnerable young people, to our grandparents’ care package and it is cuts to the social infrastructure that enhances our communities — like our libraries, community centres and leisure facilities.

These are what matter to people, not their council, and not Holyrood either for that matter.

When the SNP’s Budget inflicts more cuts on our communities, it is time for a co-ordinated strategy against it, and for Labour to be on the barricades, not behind the desks.

That co-ordinated strategy must be led by Cosla (the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) which finally needs to show that there is strength in the collective voice of Scottish local government.

In a recent council debate and SNP councillor referred to Cosla as council’s trade union — if so, then it is high time it behaved as such.

Cosla can no longer campaign for “fair funding,” define what that is, and then cave in to the Scottish government and settle for much less. That is doing a disservice to Scotland’s councillors and the communities we are elected to represent.

Instead, should the SNP not heed Cosla’s demand for an additional £1 billion, half of which is to fund Scottish government initiatives that councils will be made responsible for delivering, I am calling on Cosla to end all co-operation with the SNP government.

SNP ministers speak of a partnership between the Scottish government and local government.

Cosla has played along in good faith, agreeing to deliver new government initiatives, taking on new duties such as reducing child poverty and signing the National Performance Framework of which councils are responsible for delivering over 60 per cent.

However, this can be no “partnership” if the Scottish government simply dump more and more responsibilities on councils and do not provide the funding to deliver them.

It is time that we councillors, particularly us Labour councillors, say enough is enough — unless you end the cuts and properly fund our local services then we are no longer carrying the can for your bad decisions, while at the same time you seek to take the accolades for new initiatives that you are not delivering or fully funding.

I stood for public office to serve the needs of my constituents and improve my community. Every Labour councillor stands to do the same, and it is high the SNP Scottish government respected that.

I was first elected as a councillor in 2007 and became a father a few weeks later. My daughter will soon reach her 13th birthday having only known austerity — that must change. As deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party I will fight for that change.

Matt Kerr is councillor for Cardonald ward and candidate for deputy leader of Scottish Labour.