Jim Logue, Leader of North Lanarkshire Council, reflects on the first year of a Labour minority administration.
Labour in Scotland has always had its roots in local government.
From the time of John Wheatley and Mary Barbour to the present day, Labour councillors have worked tirelessly for their communities and sought to protect the most vulnerable. Indeed, it was often remarked that in certain parts of Scotland, the Labour vote was weighed and not counted.
This is no longer the case.
The political landscape has changed for Scottish Labour in recent years, and nowhere has it been more keenly felt than in local government. Gone are the days of thumping majorities and little opposition and in its place is the need to fight for every vote and minority administrations which necessitate the need for compromise.
We find ourselves in such a position in North Lanarkshire, where we are now one year on since the new Labour minority administration took up office. This is the first such administration in the history of North Lanarkshire Council and whilst it has not been without its challenges, I can proudly say that it has been a year of progress.
We are currently in the third phase of our ambitious modernisation programme to rebuild and refurbish our schools and are in the midst of the biggest council housebuilding programme in a generation.
Our plans to significantly transform housing and revitalise our town centre areas – demolishing all 48 residential towers over the next 20 years – are bold, aspirational plans, which have support from all political parties, to really transform the landscape of North Lanarkshire’s towns and communities.
And we’re delivering all of this with less money from the Scottish Government, as we continue to see the cuts in real cash terms that local government receives.
However, despite the great strides and hard work over the last year, the blight of poverty across North Lanarkshire is still very much present in our communities.
That’s why we have delivered the award-winning Club 365 pilot – which will be rolled out further this summer – and an increase in the school uniform clothing grant to one of the highest levels in Scotland, in addition to rolling out free sanitary products to every secondary school in North Lanarkshire to combat period poverty. Our Fairness Commission – set up by the Labour administration in the last council term – will report on its recommendations later this year and build on this vital work to ensure we build a society in North Lanarkshire that is truly for the many and not the few.
On our economy, the latest figures by the ONS indicate that North Lanarkshire is one of the strongest and fastest growing economies in Scotland and the excellent work by our administration through the Glasgow City Region Deal – which includes the biggest single roads and infrastructure investment in North Lanarkshire’s history – and our ambitious economic regeneration programme will improve connectivity in the area, create thousands of new jobs and apprenticeships and provide a significant boost to the North Lanarkshire economy.
Although our plans are only beginning to take shape, significant progress has been made, as we see new roads, schools and housing developments being built, investment in our businesses and local economy and the most vulnerable being protected from the worst of SNP and Tory austerity.
This last year has witnessed some great change and is testament to what Labour can achieve in power and in government. With even more exciting times ahead, I am incredibly proud to have led this first Labour minority administration through its year of progress. Alongside my Labour colleagues, I will continue to do all I can to achieve our vision of North Lanarkshire being a terrific place to live, learn, work, invest and visit and to showcase our Labour values through our policies.
There can be no question that the last few years has changed the way Scottish Labour councillors must approach local government, particularly in negotiating the political complexities of a minority administration.
But our determination, commitment and enduring Labour values are still at the heart of all we do.