Why we need to invest to save in Midlothian’s Communities

Monday March 13th 2023

Ross Laird Lib Dems GE17

Written by Ross Laird, Convener of Midlothian, Tweeddale and Lauderdale Liberal Democrats

As a local resident, the increasing cost and steady decline in public services across Scotland is hard to escape. As the dust settles on Council budgets, we are left to consider not just how the Scottish Government has steadily eroded local public services through years of under-funding, but also to consider what kind of public services do we want for the future, how do we keep local accountability, and how do we move to an invest to save model that ensures we are addressing long term problems rather than wasting money on reactive measures?

Since the publication of the Christie Report on the future of public services in 2011, there has been talk of the need to invest in preventative measures, particularly through supporting the third sector, to address our health and social needs. Yet, over a decade since its publication, little has been done and our voluntary and preventative services are at risk more than ever.

Last year, the Scottish Third Sector Tracker found that vast majority of voluntary organisations were concerned about finance and nearly half were concerned about delivery challenges. Longer term funding for our voluntary sector and, importantly, community councils, will help make them more robust and in a position to bring help to those most in need in our communities. Underfunding and rising costs are taking their toll and some of our charities are sadly going to the wall.

Healthcare is badly affected. Most NHS Boards in Scotland are facing enormous financial pressures. The pandemic has had a huge effect on waiting lists, threatening to overwhelm the NHS. However, the consensus from those within the service is that the pandemic only exacerbated problems that were already there. Yet opportunities to take a more community-based approach through funding link workers, leisure centres and the voluntary sector are being missed and services are underfunded in Midlothian and beyond. We need to bring healthcare into the community and rethink how it is delivered.

Chronic underfunding has left NHS Boards without the resources to be able to address our increasing health needs and, instead of addressing the problem head-on, the SNP have diverted vast sums into their ill-thought-out idea of a National Care Service. This is merely diverting sums from where it is needed most – in the community. Rather than maintaining local accountability for community care in Midlothian, the SNP want to centralise it.

Young people are particularly vulnerable. The withdrawal of mental health funding in the last budget also includes taking mental health funding away from those in our education system, such as in our local Midlothian colleges. Such a wrong-headed approach is not only bad news for our young people, but also storing up more problems and costs for the future. Youth services have also been cut and youthwork is now practically non-existent in much of Midlothian. At a time when violence is increasing in Scottish schools and anti-social behaviour is affecting so many communities, we need diversionary youth work more than ever.

We need to reset our communities. Our community services, including leisure centres, voluntary sector and community councils need financial certainty and support. We need to value local delivery and support the organisations that can make a real impact locally. Without them, the aspirations set out in the Christie Report will fail to materialise and Midlothian residents will be all the poorer for it.

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