Eunis Jassemi, the first BME Scottish Co-op delegate to a Scottish Labour conference, sets out here the argument he made in Dundee for Labour in local councils to deliver better services and economic growth.
Another year, another Scottish budget. This year MSPs had the opportunity to invest in the local communities that we live in and love. It was an opportunity for us to create real jobs and opportunities for Scotland’s young people, to invest in our local schools, to protect our community halls.
But the opportunities that Scots seek today are narrowing, and I want to touch on the reality that Scotland is facing today but also the potential that we could unlock.
Despite all the spin from Nicola Sturgeon and Derek Mackay our economy is more fragile, business confidence is down, and job security is weaker than we’ve seen in years. Construction is down. Manufacturing is down. Unemployment is up
Scotland deserves better.
We need to grow our economy so we can secure jobs for the current and future generations. We need to build a fairer Scottish economy, a fairer society, a society that provides opportunities for all. We need a government for the future, not a government of yesterday.
Our focus as a party and a movement must be firmly to protect local services from the services cuts. There is no doubt that the SNP/Green budget deal will hurt the poorest in society. Despite a historic chance to use the new powers of the Scottish Parliament to make the richest pay their fair share, the nationalists have instead chosen to squeeze local government of valued public services. No amount of spin or progressive posturing will cover their record and those that voted for that austerity budget should be ashamed of themselves.
With 260,000 children living in poverty, and the top one per cent owning as much as the bottom 50 per cent combined, Derek Mackay should have been far bolder in asking the rich to pay their fair share.
The Greens keep defending a Scottish budget deal which does not halt austerity and fails to meaningfully start to reverse cuts to local government budgets, a total of £1.5 billion since 2011. Mr Harvie even once said that local government funding is ’just about good enough’.
In practice, the budget means
- teachers will have fewer resources to educate our children,
- carers will be reduced to even shorter visits to our elderly relatives,
- the most vulnerable people in need of support will struggle to get it.
In the Glasgow city budget, the SNP and Greens joined forces again to vote against Glasgow Labour’s plan for
- A minimum of £500 for every care leaver in the city, from a Care Leaver Dividend Fund.
- Doubling of the school clothing grant.
- Complete mitigation of the benefit cap.
In reality, because of unfair deal from the SNP in Edinburgh, the poorest wards in my home city of Glasgow – like Drumchapel – have been denied the possibilities of almost 1000 new homes and 3600 new teachers.
Scotland deserves better than a SNP government that tries to whitewash its own record. There is an alternative to these aggressive cuts. A Labour/Co-operative approach can stand up for communities across the country, invest in our people and create real wealth for every man, woman and child across our towns and cities.
The Labour co-operatives have already led the way in Scotland and across the UK. Policies that councils can use today, right now, to create true community wealth and a real alternative to austerity.
Here are just 3 steps.
- In 2012, Labour & Co-operative-led Glasgow City Council made a commitment to develop Glasgow as a co-operative city. Through this, it changed the way council work cuts across departments, so a cross functional group of ‘co-operative champions’ was established to identify co-operative opportunities and develop links beyond the council. Let’s encourage more of our councils to fully become co-operative councils.
- Let’s use our procurement progressively. In Manchester they have transformed their procurement to achieve over £65 million efficiency savings while increasing the proportion of total procurement spend with organisations in the local area from 51.5% in 2008-09 to 73.6% in 2015-16. Let’s use the powers we have now to create real opportunities and shape our economy for every man, women and child.
- Finally, let’s use the assets and services of councils for our local communities. Let’s use the powers now to ensure energy is affordable and sustainable by supporting the development of community owned energy co-operatives, and exploring a municipal energy supplier to cut household bills. Let’s use the powers to support community land trusts and co-operative housing so that residents can develop their own secure, affordable housing. And let’s use not-for-profit bus operators which are able to take on critical community routes.
Those are just some of the policies we can enact in our local communities today. The opportunity to create real wealth for our communities.
I fundamentally believe Scotland’s best days are ahead. I honestly believe we can turn a new chapter in Scotland’s story. With our energy, determination, our ambition and our strength, it is only the Scottish Labour Party that will deliver the real change that our community deserves.
It is time for all of us to stand as one, to speak as one, to fight as one and to win as one. Let’s get out there and win for the communities of Scotland.