The Scottish Council elections on 3 May provide a much needed focus on local democracy and local services. Here are ten key questions trade unionists should be asking candidates before casting their vote
Local Government Funding Do you support the year on year Council Tax Freeze which, now in its 6th year, is draining an annual figure of £500 million out of public and voluntary sector delivered service?
STUC says: The year on year reductions on Council Tax may be superficially attractive to politicians, but the cumulative effect is poorer local services, and increases in charging. Those with the greatest need are losing out most. The current situation is unsustainable, political parties should get their act together, work with the Scottish Government to make Council Tax more progressive through re-banding or bring forward workable proposals for reform which are fair and keep taxes local.
STUC says: Here we provide a breakdown of current Living Wage Councils. Some parties have committed in their local manifestos to paying a Living Wage after May. Being a Scottish Living Wage employer means more than ensuring that, at this time, all staff are earning over £7.20 per hour. The Living Wage will rise in the autumn in line with the Minimum Income Standard. Will local authorities commit to continue to pay the Living Wage after it increases?
Eleven councils have already introduced the living wage: Dumfries and Galloway, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow City, North Ayrshire, Scottish Borders, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire, East Dunbartonshire, Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.
Sic councils will implement from April: Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, Moray, North Lanarkshire, Perth and Kinross and Renfrewshire.
Three councils that have indicated their intention to implement are: Aberdeen, Dundee and South Ayrshire.*
Investment and Housing Will you commit to using council borrowing powers to their full extent rule out wasting more money on discredited PPP schemes? Will you campaign for your local authority to have the must the same access to funding as housing associations for building new homes?
STUC says: Local authority house building and improvement has a key role to play in improving peoples’ living standards, providing quality employment and meeting climate change duties. We welcome the limits introduced on the ‘right to buy’ and the modest increases in local authority house building, but far more can be done.
Education Will you commit to quality education provision in Scotland, supported by funding which properly meets the needs of the system; maintain teacher numbers and work to reduce class sizes?
STUC says: Cuts are impacting on all areas of education, bursary, primary, secondary and special schools. The Curriculum for Excellence represents enormous opportunities and challenges, its development must be adequately resources and staff supported. Early years are vital and appropriate resources are needed to deliver on the principles in Getting it Right for Every Child and the Early Intervention Strategy.
Privatisation and ‘arms-length’ companies Will you commit to oppose the privatisation of services and to oppose the creation of new ALMOs?
STUC says: The joint union community campaign in Edinburgh to defeat privatisation proved how much service users and public service workers care about democratically accountable and not for profit service provision. ‘One size fits all’ approaches to public service reform are outdated and ineffective. Councils need to undertake genuine partnership approaches to reform driven by the views and experiences of public service users and public service workers.
Personalisation of services Will you ensure that personalisation of services empowers individuals, protects staff and is not a replacement for flexible and responsive public services or a means of cutting costs?
STUC says: Trade unions support personalisation as a means of empowering individuals and promoting self-organisation. But all too often the promise of greater empowerment has resulted in cuts in funding levels for care packages.
Local Transport Do you support the re-regulation of the bus industry and will you campaign for increased levels of Scottish Government financial support for buses?**
STUC says: Fares are rising too fast and too many vital routes are being closed. The bus network was taken out of public control in the 1980s and sold off to private companies. Reregulation and/or a return to public control would have to be implemented by the Scottish Government but councillors can make their feelings known. If given control Scottish councils could bundle contracts so that bus companies would be forced to run specific routes and compelled to run buses on all days and all times of the day, not just at the profitable times. Childcare Will you commit to a step-change in funding for childcare in Scotland and your local area?
STUC says: Recent figures indicate that from Children I Scotland show that Childcare costs for parents in Scotland are among the highest in Britain with some parents paying nearly as much for a nursery as do parents in Southern England, where incomes are significantly higher. Appropriate resources are needed to deliver on the principles in Getting it Right for Every Child and the Early Intervention Strategy
Council cuts and employment for women and disadvantaged groups Do you recognise that public sector cuts have a disproportionate effect on women workers? Are you aware that this is also the case for disabled workers? Have you been monitoring these impacts and what do you intend to do to meet the challenge?
STUC says: Cuts in local authority jobs has an uneven impact on employment because of whom public sector employs. The most recent unemployment figures show that unemployment among women increased by 19% over the past year. STUC Women’s Committee was shocked to discover that some local authorities are not even keeping proper statistics on the profile of their own workforce.
For further information contact Dave Moxham 0141 337