The following is the full version of a letter that was sent to The Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, 22/11/15.
A few days ago I received in the mail North Lanarkshire Council’s “Our Budget Challenge” booklet. This glossy (and no doubt costly) rag is a mixture of misdirection and spin and it’s genuinely a wonder it can actually passed off as a council publication and not a Labour Party one. The booklet attempts to show that North Lanarkshire’s budget is being cut by Holyrood and is trying to lay the blame fairly and squarely at the door of the SNP government. It illustrates it’s claims with a graph showing funding being cut by £2.5 billion, hoping perhaps that people won’t notice that this refers to Scotland as a whole and this doesn’t reflect the fact 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 own budgets, and that their available funding has remained broadly the same. In September 2015 the Daily Record actually reported that impartial researchers have calculated that the Scottish Government have actually OVERFUNDED the council tax freeze and notes that the Scottish Government have put in £165 million to local authorities to compensate local authorities. Labour’s Jackie Baillie and Kezia Dugdale are no strangers to figures that don’t add up and I sense their input to the council’s booklet. In fact there’s barely a mention of Westminster cuts at all! These are the at the very root of austerity for goodness sakes!
The booklet then goes on to detail some options and invites you to go online and indicate which budget cuts you support. These are a mixture of the vague and the distasteful. For example removing 4 posts from the Chief Executives office would save £170,000. Which posts? It doesn’t say. Probably not the Chief Executive’s…
It states they could save £92,000 by forcing employees to pay for their own disclosure checks so they can do their own jobs! Or how about being asked to review community learning and development services to save over £3 million? Tick the box and see 85 souls hit the dole. Just click your mouse, it’s easy. Only it isn’t. The decisions to be made are horrific and will have an impact across North Lanarkshire. From nursery schools to pensioners, no one will be unaffected. But cynical North Lanarkshire Council have thought of a way to help spread the blame; they are asking YOU to make the decisions. When the cuts start to bite they can always turn round and claim that ‘you, the public endorsed these cuts’. The answer then is NOT to endorse the cuts, to go online and vote no to every last one and make these councillors do what they were elected to do, and what’s more to make them take responsibility for what they are about to do.
One thing which has been avoided by everyone including the SNP opposition group, and this is the most important point of all this debate is the fact 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 North Lanarkshire they retire with pensions which would sicken you. If this was Iceland the people responsible would heading for jail, not holiday homes, and we are forced to pick up the tab. It’s an utter scandal that his happens, the only scandal greater than this is that we accept it, we allow it, and do nothing about it. We deserve everything we get in that case.
The final and most cynical of all the questions on NLC’s budget challenge is a simple Yes or No tick the box one. Innocuously worded, it 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 what these services are. This question is part of a co-ordinated effort by Labour as a bitter opposition to end the council tax freeze which has helped protect so many Scots over the last few years. None of us need reminded of the extravagant spending by NLC in the past, on folly after folly. Public sculptures and roadside decorations (1.5 million pound for Cumbernauld’s Waves for example), monuments to Labour’s own self indulgence. Labour have railed against this freeze for years, only to backtrack whenever we are in sniffing distance of an election. But the Tory cuts are getting deeper and it cannot last forever. Labour have supported austerity at UK level for years, yet have been trying to end it in Scotland through heavier taxation. This week Labour are sending a group of councillors to protest outside our national parliament calling on them to end the council tax freeze, and the arguments they shall use are those false ones I have mentioned above. They should hang their heads in shame because they will be there parroting Labour falsehoods and turning a blind eye to their own criminal loss of £70 million. It’s time the people of North Lanarkshire took the protest to their door in Motherwell and called on them to answer for the financial storm which is about to hit us all.