There are many parts to the recently agreed council budget that I welcome, such as the extra funding for day centres and kinship care allowances. That’s not surprising, considering they many of these proposals appeared in Labour’s draft budget before the Tory-led council even wrote its version. None of your readers will believe for a second, for example, that a Tory councillor would come up with a proposal to increase the Living Wage. After all, last year the Tories dismissed it as “jobs destroying policy”. This year, they not only voted for a Living Wage, but they included Labour’s proposal to increase it in their budget. Then there is the inclusion of the £1 million jobs plan, copied straight from the opposition’s draft budget.
However, the Labour Group could not support the final budget, cobbled together after six hours of chaotic scenes in the council for three key reasons.
First, the Tory budget paved the way for one of the biggest cuts in teachers and classroom assistants our region has ever seen. At the same time, however, they allocated funding for a new policy officer to support one of the council’s quangos, showing just how out of touch the Tories and SNP are with local people.
Secondly, many areas in our region are plagued with petty crime such as antisocial behaviour and dog fouling, yet the Tories ignored Labour’s proposal to invest an extra £250,000 in community wardens to allow this successful scheme to be rolled out to other communities. The hypocrisy of Tory MSP Alex Fergusson on the one hand bemoaning the cut in wardens in your newspaper for the sake of a photo opportunity, but on the other hand voting for the cuts, illustrates why the public have such little respect for politicians.
Thirdly, the measures for tackling unemployment simply do not go far enough. Our region is in the grip of jobs crisis. Long-term unemployment has risen by 50% in the past year alone. While the proposals in the budget on modern apprenticeships are a step forward, Labour pressed for other measures, including a reinstatement of the Future Jobs Fund, more training support for those who lose their jobs and financial support to small businesses, but this was opposed by the Tories and SNP councillors.
These extra measures were affordable. At the beginning of the year the council claimed it would raise around £900,000 through the sale of surplus council properties. In fact, more than £2 million has been raised and the extra money has simply been dumped in the council coffers.
Ultimately, the budget that failed to go far enough on jobs, and cut teachers and community wardens, was pushed through thanks to SNP councillors aligning themselves with the Tories. This won’t come as a surprise to your readers. After all, on 98.7% of all votes and recommendations in the council over the past four years, the SNP has always sided with the Tories.
When this administration was established in 2007, the Tories appointed several SNP councillors to senior positions as chairmen and vice-chairmen of committees. I wonder how many people who voted SNP in recent years did so because they hoped they would vote with the Tories to cut teachers from our schools? The recent budget sends a very clear message to the people of Dumfries and Galloway. If you vote SNP in May, you will wake up the next day with a Tory council.
Councillor Ronnie Nicholson,
Leader of the Opposition Labour Group,
Dumfries and Galloway Council.