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by Louise Wilson
23 February 2024
We should back our councils as they stand up to government on funding

Local small-scale festivals are backed by business, the community and the council | Alamy

We should back our councils as they stand up to government on funding

My bit of Glasgow is described by estate agents as “up and coming”. I often joke that the only reason I was able to buy a flat was because I’m located right on the boundary of “good” versus “bad” Glasgow.

If you turn left out of my front door, you’ll find fancy bakeries, pubs with craft beer and more than your fair share of cafes serving, alongside great coffee, hipster vibes. Turn right and you find betting shops, fly-tipping and more than your fair share of dilapidated tenements.

Unlike most dodgy neighbourhoods to which “up and coming” usually applies, though, small changes even in the two years I’ve lived here prove it genuinely is.

And more than that, it is doing so in a way that blends what is typically seen as improvement (which too often leads to gentrification) with the needs of the local community.

The businesses that line the high street are, by and large, locally owned and reflect the diversity of the area. A growing number of community interest companies have committed to giving back. Local campaigns have saved historical buildings.

And then there’s Glasgow City Council itself, which has supported the area to flourish – whether that’s encouraging active travel through wider pavements and cycle routes, compulsory purchasing of housing to make them fit for habitation, or supporting local venues and cultural events.

The fact the council has achieved all this despite a less-than-generous settlement from the Scottish Government and the limited powers of local government is impressive. It also makes me wonder what local government in Scotland could deliver if it was properly empowered.

Our cities, towns, and villages are not meant to just be places where people live. It should be where they thrive. There should be a sense of community.

But with more cuts on the horizon, it puts councils’ ability to support us at risk. When Cosla warned at the end of last year that the Scottish Budget would mean “cuts in every community”, this is what they meant – cuts to the very things which anchor our communities, which encourage social cohesion and make our day-to-day lives meaningful.

Between councils’ chronically low budgets and statutory obligations in areas like social care and education, that makes setting their own priorities incredibly difficult. They are also largely unable to generate their own revenue.

The Verity House Agreement was a step in the right direction. Signed last summer by First Minister Humza Yousaf and Cosla president Shona Morrison, it was hailed as a landmark moment in creating a stronger relationship between central and local government. Primarily focused on funding and powers, it included commitments on creating a new fiscal framework, and regular reviews of budgets and what councils control.

It took less than four months for Yousaf to trample all over that agreement.

In announcing a council tax freeze without consulting the councils themselves, the first minister broke the ‘no surprises’ clause in Verity House. And despite Glasgow council leader Susan Aitken’s cloth-eared attempts to defend a council tax freeze in a newspaper column earlier this month, Yousaf’s announcement also demonstrated quite clearly how little the Scottish Government cares about its local counterpart.

This is why Cosla is now publicly voicing its anger at ministers. They have tried using the official channels and all that produced was an agreement not worth the paper it’s written on.

Councils are but one part of building successful and thriving communities. But they are an important part. They are often the link between our ambitions and those of our neighbours, and delivering on those ambitions.

If we really, truly, deeply care about our communities – the places we spend the vast majority of our lives – then we must back our councils in this fight. Anything less will leave us all the poorer.

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