Local government is being abused. In a domestic setting this would be called out for what it is: coercive control – with Scottish and UK governments as perpetrators and local councils as their victims.Councillor Maureen Child
Condemning even as she is obliged to support, Councillor Maureen Child makes a passionate speech in Edinburgh City Chambers during the Budget Debate on 21 February.
The finance vice-convenor is officially seconding the proposed City of Edinburgh Council budget for 2019. Like every other council in Scotland, with reduced settlement from the Scottish Government, Edinburgh will be cutting core services this year. Again.
For Edinburgh’s SNP-Labour coalition that means a £33 million cut to core services and 200 possible redundancies.
Members of the Scottish Parliament of all political parties are passing on to councils unfunded duties and commitments. They are all passing on to councils turbo-charged austerity.
The Labour councillor’s passion resonates all the more because it is non party political. Voting for cuts to vital services, which will hurt those who most need them, ‘should give none of us any joy or pleasure…from any side of the chamber’.
Denouncing the corrosive culture which treats local government with ‘barely concealed contempt’, Cllr Child highlights, with emotional sincerity, a key point made by Professor James Mitchell in the Sceptical Scot lead story on the ‘blame-game’ of devolution. Here, in this extract from a city council debate, is the real life impact of the Scottish Government’s process of centralising control at the expense of devolved local bodies.
Or, as the professor puts it:
Partnership that only exists when and where it suits one level of government precludes parity of esteem. Devolving penury is the opposite of subsidiarity. Centralised decision-making that runs contrary to local government wishes is fiat without dialogue. Demanding community empowerment while limiting local resources means cuts to services essential to meaningful empowerment
See also Audit Scotland’s detailed report on the funding crisis facing Scottish local authorities. ‘Decisive leadership needed as council savings “increasingly critical’
Councils are balancing a real terms funding cut of 9.6 per cent over the last eight years with increasing demand, particularly from a growing older population.Audit Scotland Press Release 2018
Cllr Child’s speech
It should give none of us any joy or pleasure to propose and vote for a legal balanced budget, from any side of this chamber.
No set of proposals today can meet the core needs of the city and the huge demands which our growing population make on all our vital core services
This council is facing real cuts year on year on year with no promise whatsoever of full and fair funding in future years.
Members of the Scottish Parliament of all political parties are passing on to councils unfunded duties and commitments. They are all passing on to councils turbo-charged austerity. Members of parliament and civil servants expect councillors and councils offices to soak up the blame for everything that goes wrong as a consequence, and they jump in to take credit for all that we do right.
I am truly sick and tired of taking the blame for members of successive parliaments wilful ignorance. They act like they have no idea what it takes to do what we need to do as councillors directly and in partnership to deliver core services, and to lead on tackling poverty and inequality and deprivation.
Mine is not a party political point. There has been a serious long term corrosion of esteem from central government towards local government and in my increasingly bitter experience it has been almost always been thus but ever more so over the last seven years. There are warm words encountered sometimes but MSPs behaviours speak loudly of a barely concealed contempt in which councils and councillors are held.
Local government is being abused and we are losing our sense of identity as an equal partner. In a domestic setting this would be called out for what it is: coercive control with Scottish and UK governments as perpetrators and local councillors and councils rather as their victims.
On council budget day each of our parties say, essentially, ‘look at my tribe’. We grab headlines based on smoke and mirrors, sleight of hand or populist posturing. At best we are making marginal differences in our budget offer to citizens of Edinburgh marginal because fundamentally we have all been handed yet again a very poor settlement from our Holyrood so-called partners.
In our own ways we are making the very best that we can of their very bad deal. There has to be a much more profound devolution of power and a proper recognition of our own identity as local government. We are Edinburgh councillors and we are in this together. Following Theodore Roosevelt’s dictum: ‘We are doing what we can, with what we have, where we are.’
We will divide on this motion but as a late great MP Jo Cox said ‘We have far more in common than the things which divide us in this council chamber’.
Professor Mitchell’s article can be read HERE