Time to stand up to council budget cuts
In a matter of weeks, South Lanarkshire councillors will begin the difficult task of looking at the detailed budget for the year ahead.
In recent years, our council has had to make savings in the region of £90m and next year it looks likely we will have another £36m to find.
To achieve this, Labour councillors will once again work closely with council officers to scrutinise every area of expenditure. No stone will be left unturned in an effort to set a balanced budget, right down to the timing of street lights, which were marginally adjusted in 2013 to make savings.
I am proud that we have managed to get through these tough years with no compulsory redundancies and that we have prioritised investing in social housing and new schools whilst also protecting vital front line services for the most vulnerable in society. Education, housing, and social care are the very pillars of the Labour Party and they will always underpin any decision I make as a councillor representing the people of Rutherglen South.
But with each passing year, as funding drops and demands on services increase, the legal responsibility to balance the books becomes more and more difficult to achieve. We are now in the eighth year of an underfunded council tax freeze and face deeper cuts from the Scottish Government every year.
In spite of this, our Scottish Nationalist colleagues are on a high. Buoyed by their election victory in May, rumour has it SNP councillors are already squabbling over positions and sizing up the curtains in the leader’s office.
Their arrogance would be amusing if the outcome were not so serious. They have cynically abused the comfort of opposition to take credit for popular decisions while opting out of the difficult choices that got us there. They have posed for photographs with those affected by budget savings while never suggesting an alternative or challenging their government’s cuts to council funding. These are the tactics that give politicians a bad name. If they succeed and win the council in 2017, it is a dishonesty that will be felt at the heart of every community we represent.
With the success of Jeremy Corbyn at the weekend, both the Labour Party and the country have turned a corner. A staggering 423,000 people voted in the leadership election and the overwhelming majority had one message: politics must radically change. The public are demanding honest, straight talking politics that puts people and communities before party and ego.
That is why I am calling on the SNP to work with us to stand up for local people and challenge the funding crisis that is affecting councils across Scotland. It is time to engage with the budget process, time to bring forward your suggestions and discuss them openly.
With all of us working towards the same goal, we are more likely to reach a better outcome.
Savings Rutherglen South councillor, Gerard Killen