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The choice facing the Scottish Government

If you rely on local public services delivered here in East Renfrewshire, the outlook for the next few years is grim indeed. Even for a self-confessed optimist, like me, it is difficult to see how our local councillors can do anything other than decide which services they will have to cut or which centres they will have to close on behalf of the Scottish Government.

The problem is John Swinney’s Budget. The Finance Secretary has decided to cut £500m from local authorities across Scotland and for us here in East Renfrewshire, that means a further £2.5million reduction this year on top of the £26 million cuts already being asked of the council.

Make no mistake, this SNP budget will have devastating consequences. Whether it is care for the elderly, investment in our schools or simply fixing our roads, it is impossible to cope with this level of budget reduction without us all feeling it directly. As always in these situations, the most vulnerable – the young, old or disabled – will feel it the most. Our children’s education will be affected. Older people living alone or needing support will be affected. From libraries to bin-collections, pot-holes to public parks, we will all be affected.

I think what makes it worse for those who will have to implement these painful decisions, is the manner in which Mr Swinney has ordered them around. The Scottish Government controls 85% of the local authority budget and has told councillors across Scotland, if they do not accept the cut, they will be penalised to the tune of a further £400 million. Council tax only contributes 15% or less towards local services and couldn’t make up the difference, but local residents can’t touch that either.

Of course, as with all Scottish Government decisions, there is an alternative. The SNP like to maintain that anything bad that ever happens comes from Westminster, but in this case, the decision is clearly theirs and they have a choice. They can cut hundreds of millions of pounds from public services, or they can use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to protect the people they are supposed to serve. Labour has asked them to choose between raising taxes or cutting services. The SNP have been in government for nine years. It’s time they stopped trying to blame everyone else, faced up to their responsibilities and started using the huge range of powers they do have to make a difference.

ENDS

This first appeared in the Glasgow Southside and Eastwood Extra on 11th February 2016

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East Renfrewshire turns out to protest at Parliament

IMG_0171East Renfrewshire local government workers, trade unionists & Labour councillors travelled to Edinburgh this week to protest against the Scottish Governments budget cuts to local public services.

Council Leader Jim Fletcher supported by fellow East Renfrewshire councillors and workers from across the authority joined the protest led by Eastwood MSP Ken Macintosh. The demonstration – which was attended by councillors, trade unionists and workers from across Scotland – came in advance of the first debate on the Scottish Government’s budget which threatens local schools and care services and would result in 15,000 local government job losses right across Scotland.

As a result of John Swinney`s announcement ERC will have to find an additional £2.5 Million of cuts this financial year (1/4/16-31/3/17).  The announcement will increase the total cuts package being asked of the council over the three year period 1/4/15-31/3/18 to circa £26 Million.

Eastwood MSP Ken Macintosh – who led the demonstration outside Holyrood – said:

“Make no mistake, this SNP budget will have devastating consequences for anyone and everyone who relies on public services in East Renfrewshire.  Whether it is care for the elderly, investment in our schools or simply fixing our roads – it is impossible for John Swinney to cut council budgets by £500 million and us all not to feel it directly.  He has a choice to make, a choice between using the powers he has here in the Scottish Parliament or cutting our future.  I would thank all of those people from East Renfrewshire who lobbied Parliament today and who have made that clear to him”IMG_0183

Labour Leader of East Renfrewshire Council, Cllr Jim Fletcher, said:

“These further cuts from John Swinney to our budget will impact on every area of council service provision and have a negative impact on every resident in East Renfrewshire.   We have done everything we can to reduce our costs within the council and will continue to look for internal efficiencies.  The sheer scale of these cuts from Scottish Government however, will mean that a reduction in our front line services to residents is inevitable.”

Both Macintosh and Fletcher backed Scottish Labour’s bold plan to protect schools and services from SNP cuts by using the new powers available to Holyrood to set an 11p Scottish Rate of Income Tax in next year’s budget.

ENDS

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Active Kids 2016

Ellie Simmonds - Ken MacintoshKen joined Ellie Simmonds OBE, who has won four Paralympic gold medals, at Holyrood, to launch to support Active Kids 2016 this month.

Paralympian Ellie Simmonds talked about the benefits the Active Kids scheme brings to Scotland and how over the last 11 years it has encouraged children to lead healthier and more active lives. There are 2,250 registered organisations in Scotland, which include schools and nurseries, sports clubs, the Scouts and Girlguiding.

Active Kids launched in 2005 to help inspire school children to get more involved in physical activity. The programme has grown and expanded to include healthy eating and cooking equipment available from the voucher collection scheme.  There is also a range of free Cooking and Nutrition Toolkits – endorsed by the British Nutrition Foundation, they are available to teachers to help children learn about a balanced diet.

In Scotland alone, over £4million worth of equipment and experiences have been donated to local schools, sports clubs and organisations since 2005.

Ken said:

“It was great to meet Ellie and to hear about the work she is doing to get more children to lead healthy and active lives.  This can be as simple as getting into good eating habits or at the other end of the spectrum, taking inspiration from our Olympic athletes.  I was particularly pleased to see the new Paralympic Challenge and I would encourage all our local schools to register and take advantage of the free equipment on offer.”

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COSLA statement on #SwinneyCuts

News from Ken Macintosh: Comment on Cosla council cuts statement

Commenting on Cosla’s response to John Swinney’s new deadline for councils to agree a funding deal, Scottish Labour Communities spokesperson Ken Macintosh said:

“It must be beginning to dawn on John Swinney that his plan to force councils to accept half a billion pounds of cuts for local services like schools and social care is the wrong path.

“Scotland’s councils have been treated by disdain by the SNP Government whilst being handed cuts which would devastate local services and cost up to 15,000 jobs.

“The SNP Government’s cuts to local budgets for schools and nurseries will pull the rug out from under young people in Scotland. We should be cutting the gap between the richest and the rest in our classrooms, not the budgets for our schools.

“After nearly a decade in office and a majority in parliament the SNP aren’t rejecting austerity – they are accepting it and trying to impose it on our local services.”

ENDS

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Cuts from Edinburgh

Anyone and everyone in East Renfrewshire who relies on the vital services delivered by our local authority needs to prepare for the impact of the Scottish Government’s budget cuts. Many of our most vulnerable residents or those in low paid jobs are already suffering from George Osborne’s austerity policies but far from making things better, John Swinney’s budget is going to make the pain a whole lot worse.

85p out of every pound spent by the council on local people comes directly from the SNP Government in Edinburgh. John Swinney has now decided to cut that funding by more than 7%.

We will all feel it. We will feel it in holes in the road, the extra charges for our children’s music lessons or the increased costs to use our local swimming pools. As is always the case, those most in need of help will feel it the worst. Those who rely on additional support or who have learning difficulties, older people living alone who need help maintaining their garden, single parent families and disabled people.

The SNP promoted their budget as good for the economy but the net effect is that local jobs are going to be lost – and every one of those decisions can be laid at John Swinney’s door.

Here in East Renfrewshire, my Labour council colleagues take pride in the priority we give education and the results achieved by our pupils and our fantastic schools. I know they will continue to do so, but it makes no sense for the SNP Government to say they too want to put education at the top of the agenda then impose brutal cuts to the councils who deliver budgets for our schools and teachers.

John Swinney said he would ‘consult’ with his ‘partners’ in local government before implementing his budget. We need to test him on his promise. Every councillor in East Renfrewshire, no matter which party they are a member of, needs to let John Swinney know that if he goes ahead with these cuts, the effects will be devastating. I am calling on every Councillor to do right by local residents and say enough is enough to the Scottish Government.

ENDS

This first appeared in the Eastwood Extra on Wednesday 6th January 2016