On Thursday last week, Mike Robb wrote a challenge to the leadership contenders entitled Six Policies for Scotland. Here Katy Clark MP gives her response.
Thank you for sharing your views on the Scottish leadership election and for giving me the opportunity to respond.
I agree that each of the areas where you would like to see action taken should be priorities for the next leader and deputy leader of Scottish Labour.
1) I believe we need to initiate a massive council house building programme to build homes for the more than 170,000 families currently on council house waiting lists in Scotland. To achieve this we need to ensure that the Smith Commission gives the Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities the borrowing powers necessary to build large numbers of good quality houses.
As deputy leader my immediate priority would be to make sure that that we use the powers we have and ensure further borrowing powers are devolved so that councils can build – and then work closely with the Scottish Government and local authorities to deliver on this pledge. There is currently a capacity to build at least 10,000 homes each year on the basis of advice from the construction industry and other housing experts. This could become more ambitious as we build capacity.
Research from UNISON has suggested that one way existing powers could be used to build houses would be by investing local authority pension funds into housing association developments. Due to the long term and relatively secure nature of these investments this is likely to be attractive option for fund managers at the current time. More information on this proposal can be found at http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/housing/FundingAndBuildingTheHomesScotlandNeeds_Mar2013.pdf
This is just one potential option which should be considered alongside making available the additional borrowing powers that local authorities need to build council houses and indeed a range of other suggestions which are being made as to how the programme could be funded.
2) Childcare is an issue which many women in the Scottish Labour Party have highlighted to me as a priority. Sadly currently childcare costs are so high that for many parents it is simply not cost-effective to work full time. Our priority should be extending our offer of free childcare as this helps all families. Polling suggests that an offer of free nursery places for children from the age of 12 months would make 21% of SNP voters more likely to vote Labour. This is something which the next Scottish Labour Government needs to work towards in its next term in office.
3) I believe we need a statutory living wage which everyone in Scotland will earn. The savings made on in-work benefits used to assist those small businesses who are struggling to meet with the extra cost. In the interim we should be using procurement laws to ensure that all those working in the public sector, either directly or by contractors, are paid the living wage.
4) We need to ensure the Smith Commission delivers not only substantial devolution from Westminster to Holyrood but also from Holyrood to local authorities. This means giving local authorities more responsibility for raising revenue and more control over how it spends it and over the services it provides. For example by re-regulating the buses we can give local authorities the power to ensure all of the communities they represent are served by frequent affordable bus routes.
5) Trident is a major employer in the Faslane area and it would be irresponsible simply to abolish Trident with no plan in place to support the local workforce. During the referendum campaign I was campaigning for a defence diversification unit to be established by the Scottish Government to ensure that where defence jobs move out of Scotland, a clear strategy is in place to enable all those who previously worked in these areas to be given decent well paid jobs to replace them. Sadly the Scottish Government has been completely unwilling to establish such a unit to date and I believe it should be a priority for the next Scottish Labour Government at Holyrood.
6) Policies above such as the living wage and extension of free childcare will assist families struggling to meet with fuel costs, especially alongside existing Labour commitments to freeze energy prices until 2017 and replacing Ofgem with a new tougher energy regulator. We need to look at what further steps we can take, such a genuine home installation package to replace the Government’s Green Deal to bring down the cost of household energy. There are certain specific measures I would like to see taken to help rural households, such as extending the energy price freeze to off-grid fuels and ensure that this market is properly regulated. I represent a rural constituency so am very aware that the cost of living, including the cost of energy, is more expensive in rural areas.
As you have highlighted this is not an exhaustive list of measures which I would like the Scottish Labour to adopt but I hope it gives an indication of the sort of steps I would like to see us take to regain support ahead of the next General Election and Scottish Parliament elections. Johann was right to say that there should be no ‘no go areas’ for Labour and as Deputy I would want to ensure that this remained our approach. I hope a policies such as those outlined above would ensure that we were able to build a relationship with voters in areas such as Inverness where we have traditionally not had electoral success.
With Best Wishes,