Tuesday January 8th 2019
Written by Peter Smaill, Provost of Midlothian
Happy New Year to electors in our fast-growing Midlothian. 2019 is a year of challenge but also opportunity!
The challenge is that our SNP government is in denial about what it is doing to Scottish Local Government. Under the guise of additional burdens which are partially funded, there are real term cuts to core services.
Who says? The umbrella organisation for councils, COSLA, for a start- and that’s controlled by Labour/SNP. It’s a real cut multiplied because two thirds of our activity is protected. That includes a school pupil:teacher ratio of 13.4 to 1 – ridiculously small average class sizes for which in most places and subjects there is no evidence of educational advantage.
We also have the problem of real increases in pupil numbers; and the growth of our elderly population. The funding formula disadvantages Midlothian compared to other small local authorities.
Finance Secretary MacKay thinks that developer contributions will pay but the numbers don’t stack. I’ve written to him offering to talk on funding flexibility for councils like ours… but there’s no sign of listening mode with the SNP.
If it’s a Holyrood political project – then that’s different. Money gets found so they can attempt to virtue signal. Yet even with increasing support from Westminster, including our share of the £20 bn extra for the NHS, the SNP somehow never fix the basics. And to add to the chaos of farmer payments, hospital waiting times and poor educational attainment nationally, we have our heavily subsidised trains running late or cancelled far too often.
Independence, with centralisation, is their aim – a purpose irrelevant to providing quality public services at local level.
Opportunity: development can be beneficial in Midlothian, regenerating historic Burghs and heritage assets. The Councillors in all parties need to find a balance between conservation and business growth, and not obsessing about tired old planning approaches nor being fearful of challenging ill considered Scottish Government targets.
The obligation to balance the budget will expose local SNP claims that the deficit is nothing to do with them. The Conservative Group are working on best-value approaches which will show that the money-tree fictions of the nationalist left are not the way to go if we are to combine a realistic settlement with efficiency and equity for Midlothian Council.
All subject to the costs of heavy snow… let’s see what happens on all fronts in 2019!
Peter Smaill is the Provost of Midlothian and a conservative councillor for Midlothian East.
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