Letter to The Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, 22/11/15 (Edited at Editorial Request)
Last week I received North Lanarkshire Council’s “Our Budget Challenge” booklet; a mixture of misdirection and spin and it’s a wonder it can be passed off as a council publication, as it reads like a Labour Party one. It attempts to show that NLC’s budget is being cut and tries to lay the blame fairly and squarely at the door of the SNP government, while all but ignoring Westminsters role. It is illustrated with a graph showing funding being cut by £2.5 billion, hoping that people won’t notice that this refers to Scotland as a whole, not NLC, and this doesn’t reflect that in the same time period the Scottish Government has taken over funding of police and fire services, so local authorities no longer have to fund these from their budgets, and available funding has remained broadly the same. In September 2015 the Daily Record reported that impartial researchers stated the Scottish Government actually OVERFUNDED the council tax freeze and had put in £165 million to compensate local authorities. The booklet asks us to go online and indicate which budget cuts we support. Removing four posts from the Chief Executives office would save £170,000. Which posts? It doesn’t say. Approving a ‘review’ of community learning and development services saves over £3 million and sees 85 souls hit the dole. The list goes on and on but cynical NLC have thought of a way to help spread the blame; they are asking YOU to make these decisions. When the cuts start to bite they can turn round and claim that ‘the public endorsed these cuts’. The answer then is NOT to endorse the cuts. Go online and vote no to every last one and make these councillors take responsibility for what they are about to do. The most important point of all this debate goes almost unnoticed: these £45 million of cuts follow hard on the heels of North Lanarkshire Council losing a £70 million court battle over equal pay. Surely this explains the black hole in the budget? In any other walk of life the people responsible would be sacked, in Iceland they would be sent to jail; in North Lanarkshire they retire with huge pensions. The final and most cynical of all the questions on NLC’s budget challenge is a simple and innocuously worded one that asks if you would be willing to pay more council tax to help protect public services. Who wouldn’t? But the question doesn’t say how much extra they want you to pay, or which services would be protected. This is part of a co-ordinated effort against the council tax freeze by a bitter Labour opposition. This week a group of NLC Labour councillors are to protest outside Holyrood calling on them to end the council tax freeze, a move that would be completely unnecessary if they themselves had not lost £70 million! It’s the people of North Lanarkshire who should be protesting about NLC’s scandalous management and demanding that those incompetents be sacked instead.