Glasgow CIty Council budget: let the children pay

Now that the dust has settled on the headlines of councils’ budgets, what does the detail tell us?  Largely, that very little changes.  That every year, officers and elected members engage in a highly sophisticated game of brinkmanship over cuts, only now they have brought “the people” into the process through extended and largely impotent consultation processes.  Because whatever it is that those hardy members of the public who toddle along to be bombarded by financial science think they are nodding in agreement with, I’m pretty sure it isn’t that children should pay the highest price of austerity.

And that’s exactly what Glasgow City Council has done.  To some extent, it is inevitable if, like most councils, a one-size fits all approach to budget cut-making is taken.  If the call is for each department to bring forward their 5% cuts options, then education and social work as local authorities’ biggest spenders will indubitably end up with a bigger proportion of cuts.

Despite it continuing to be the mode for budget-making all over the country, it really won’t do.  Nor will the lack of detail and trust in ability to use the ubiquitous review to save pennies.  A review is local government’s equivalent of searching through all coat pockets and at the bottom of all bags, purses and wallets for change for the bus.  And to think we pay these people big salaries for the privilege.

Thus, in Glasgow, its related companies – the arms length bodies which have caused no little controversy in recent years – are going to save nearly £1 million through a range of efficiencies.  Glasgow City Marketing Bureau is taking its PR activity in-house and saving the taxpayer £36k per year while Glasgow Life is building on its current energy efficiency scheme with staff to save £240k this year.  Funnily enough, the amount saved drops to £100k in 2014-15 and there is no sign of an accumulated, ongoing saving.  Does this mean that staff won’t be exhorted quite so much to turn off the lights and the heating down next year?

Similarly, Land and Environmental Services is going to save the taxpayers £276,000 this year (and nothing next) through “efficiencies in contracts management in the supply base coupled with income generation measures”.  All of which remain currently unspecified.  Development and regeneration services goes one better by offering up “non essential spend efficiencies” from a “reduction in expenditure across subscriptions, printing and advertising through a review and streamlining of processes”.  Though its saving of £50k this year reduces to £20k next year.  Is it too radical to suggest that all non-essential spend should just cease?

Aside from tinkering around the margins of what they do, these types of services are offering up their biggest savings either through jobs going or by hiking up prices and charges.  Though, of course, they don’t say that jobs will go.  Corporate Services aims to find over half a million of savings this year from “corporate and service productivity reforms”;  Glasgow Life will “more closely align workforce with service using better staff scheduling” to save a substantial £1.1 million over 2 years;  and Land and Environmental Services will put an additional £1.3 million into the kitty through increased income generation through “a renewed focus on marketing and trading by in-house teams encompassing recycling income, Glasgow Flowers, grounds maintenance, bereavement services and transport”.  What this means is that they will charge education more for grass cutting of school pitches in a classic robbing Peter to pay Paul manoeuvre and charge folk more to be buried.

But this is all pie in the sky in any event.  There is no guarantee of the level of income generation forecast.  If there are detailed calculations and equations behind any of these figures, I’d love to see them:  more likely, a blunt percentage increase on income generated in previous years was applied.  And if the increased income doesn’t materialise, are these same departments expected to make their efficiencies in other ways?  Don’t count on it.  Which puts even more pressure on front-line services which spend considerable amounts like education and social work.

In education, the workforce is going to take a battering.  Remember the stushie in Renfrewshire over the SNP’s proposal to cease providing teachers in nursery schools?  Guess what?  It’s being done in Glasgow but ever the wily political veterans, the Labour group has buried this proposal in a £5million package of “alterations to staff allocation”.  The council intends over the next two years to raise class sizes in primary schools (“review of staffing formula in primary schools”), cut subject choice in secondaries (“improved timetabling in secondaries to maximise staffing”), replace teachers in nurseries with “team leader child development officers” and will hit additional support for learning staffing for a second time in this budget.  The only measure which suggests planned rather than panicked reprovisioning is the shift to “cluster heads for early years”.

And if we were in any doubt that it is children – and the most vulnerable children – who will bear the brunt of Glasgow’s budget savings, the £2.4 million saving identified for additional support for learning by reducing additional support for learning staff, merging and relocating more establishments, reforming hospital education and stopping the ASL summer programmes confirm it.  Additionally, there will be a review of out of school care lets where out of school care services do not run to capacity – which probably means stopping lets to clubs and schemes in poorer areas where higher unemployment ensures there is less demand for after school care.  The cost of a school dinner and a breakfast club place is going up, and for the first time, charges will be introduced for fruit and snacks in nurseries on the grounds that it brings pre-school children into line with school age.

In social work, there are jobs and front line services going and privatisation by stealth.  The meals service is putting prices up, limiting choice to two courses and moving 390 Cordia clients of its meals at home service “to an alternative service provider who deals directly with clients”.  This package provides a one off saving of £306,000.   £87,000 will be saved by “redirecting” transport provision for playschemes and community groups;  Cordia is stopping its handperson service; and posts will be done away with in hospital social work services, the centre for sensory impairment, community work and homelessness teams.  As usual, the voluntary sector will take a big hit totalling over £2 million in 2 years.  Apparently there will be “minimal impact on service users”.  Yep, that’s what they always say.

What amazes me is how little of this kind of detail finds its way into the public domain, through the media.  The detail of the figures might be dull but the potential impact is not.  What Glasgow City Council’s budget means is a hard time in the next two years for low income families in particular.  It’s bad enough the ConDems whacking their living standards with their austerity measures without local councils adding to their misery.

Yet, this same council has a restricted reserve fund of £4.6 million for culture and recreation, which includes the Commonwealth Games.  This fund, it says, is fully committed for the coming year ie that it is spent already.  Never mind that some families will be struggling to give their children enough to eat in the next year, at least there will be a circus to take their mind off the hunger pangs.

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Guestpost: Organising for Engagement – An analysis of where #sc12 went wrong in Glasgow

This is a guestpost in two parts and I am indebted to Nick Durie for what is an outstanding critique of the state of democracy and local politics in Glasgow.  Nick is a community organiser for Power In Community.  He previously worked for London Citizens as a community organiser on their community land trust campaign and has been a member of the Scottish Tenants Organisation’s national committee since 2005.  Nick tweets as @PowerCIC.

Part one published today exposes some of the faultlines in Glasgow political culture and considers if apathy is the appropriate word to describe the disengagement and disenfranchisement in Scotland’s greatest city.  Read it and weep.

As the dust settles after the local election results, it is important to consider the ramifications for Scottish society. Yes, the SNP increased its share of council seats, and won the largest number across Scotland, yes the Scottish Greens had a good election, and yes Labour came out fighting, retaining Glasgow and winning Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

But scratch beneath the results and there is a deeper story going on here.

In the battle tipped to be the biggest show of the election, roughly 10% of Glasgow’s registered voters re-elected a Labour council, in a ballot where 68% of voters didn’t. It is high time we examined the cause of this disenchantment, what it says about our society and our economy, and what can be done about it.

I understand some of the issues around apathy, the challenge I would put out is that if people don’t like the system or the challenges presented by all means get involved and reinvigorate democracy.”

Derek Mackay MSP’s recent, timely comments about voter “apathy” bear some investigation.  The first point is that he, the Minister for Local Government, frames non-voting, non-participation as apathy.  Oxford dictionaries give, “lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern” as the meaning of apathy; however, in Let Glasgow Flourish, the Glasgow Centre for Population Health found that among those living in areas of multiple indices of deprivation – the kind of areas where voter “apathy” is at its highest – residents were the most likely in Glasgow to take personal action to solve local problems.

The same study found that social capital and levels of reciprocity in the poorest areas were weak, and that residents did not  trust their neighbours or like the environment in which they lived, so this result is all the more surprising in that it shows that the poorest are among the most likely to take action to improve their neighbourhoods.

The idea that poor people, living in poor areas are not interested in civics or politics, that they are “apathetic,” is not borne out by the evidence.  Something deeper is at the root of why the urban poor did not vote in large numbers in Glasgow’s local election.

Newsnicht helpfully interviewed some people in Possil, who were clear on why they did not vote:

They don’t dae nothin.  They don’t dae a hing for anybody.  […] It’s worthless.  There’s nae point in it.  Nae point in it.  Doesnae help nobody.”

>Do you think it would change anything? “No really, naw.”

>What’s the reason for people not exercising their vote d’you think? “Probably don’t think any of thaim will dae any different for ye, or no.  Thing is politicians are only in it for theirsels oniewey, ye know.

It is easy to dismiss such analysis as unhelpfully cynical.  But it must be remembered that during the height of the boom, Scottish society was content to let half the population of Possil, where these non-voters were interviewed, to be written off as “structural unemployment.”

People in places like Possilpark have good reason to be cynical about what the political process will deliver for them.  Indeed those who spend their lives studying data about social inequality are equally scathing, based on these kinds of data:-

The poor places always remain poor places unless something happens to change them. In these seats, the level of apathy is amazing. They vote Labour but more people don’t vote at all. A hell of a lot of people are just disengaged because they don’t see the point of it.” [Professor Douglas Robertson, Stirling University]

For a hundred years, the only party on offer to poor people has been Labour and it hasn’t been that great for them — so, often, they don’t bother to vote at all.” [Prof Danny Dorling, Sheffield University]

Across much of Glasgow, this kind of crushing inequality and poverty is mirrored.  In the home of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Glasgow’s East End, life expectancy among the poor appears actually to be on the decline, again during the years of the boom. “In many neighbourhoods with lower than average life expectancy, life expectancy appears to have remained static or may even have fallen.

Calton ward saw a turnout of 26.03%; it has the worst male life expectancy in Western Europe.  Indeed, six wards in Glasgow had a turnout in the 20% range: they all suffer from deprivation, however, the only ward which elected a Tory councillor had a turnout of 42.7%.

It’s worth taking a look at the picture in Calton ward, a ward that routinely has the lowest turnout in council elections, because it graphically illustrates just how much this was an election dominated by a shrinking pool of core voters:

Labour’s vote for George Redmond had a 72% transfer rate for 455 surplus ballots which were allocated to                   Yvonne Küçük, taking her above her quota.  For the remaining seat, the SNP struggled through 13 rounds of preference transfers before making the quota.

This demonstrates how little movement there was in preferences, indicating an election dominated by core voters.  The same pattern has emerged in other wards around the city, where first preference SNP voters were transferring second preferences at 70+%, and first preference Labour voters were transferring at around the same rate, and other Unionist-voting first preferences were not transferred to the SNP, after Labour candidates had made their quota.

The leader of Glasgow City Council, Gordon Matheson, standing in Anderston and City ward, may have made quota in round one, but he did so in a ward that recorded a 23.6% turnout.  There is something rotten about our democracy when the leader of a council is elected by less than 10% of the electorate in the ward where he stood.

Apathy is not the issue, it is poverty and disenchantment with electoral politics.  It is interesting to speculate about what this says about our society, but I prefer to look at the question of dismal mandates in areas of poverty as just a refraction of lived reality.

Whole communities have been written off by the political process and this is reflected at the ballot box.

Ten things Glasgow Labour won’t want voters to know

The race to secure the biggest prize in Scottish local government is on.  Today, Labour launched its manifesto for Glasgow.  It contains 100 pledges which the party promises to deliver for the people of Glasgow, if re-elected, with the focus on jobs, children and young people, and regeneration.  The manifesto also sets out twenty achievements of its last four years in power (though one or two, such as housing stock transfer actually happened before 2007) and at least one of the supposed achievements – the M74 extension – more properly belongs to the Scottish Government.  Still, it’s not a bad track record but will it be enough to save Labour from a mauling by the electorate?

But no matter how Labour dresses things up, Glasgow’s problems remain deep-seated.  Venture out of the city centre and away from the development along the Clyde and into outlying areas – the ones twixt centre and suburbs especially – and the streets are resolutely rundown.  The evidence of poverty all around is pervasive.  Glasgow looks just as tired and forlorn as it ever did, with the pockets of growth overshadowed by the level of decay.  It’s almost as though the boom years have passed many communities by – and actually, they have.

And there is a sense abroad that people have had enough.  Labour has had years, nay decades in charge of Glasgow – more than enough time to do some of the things it is promising in the next four years.  Labour appears to have woken up at last to not being able to take its bedrock vote for granted.  In the 2011 election, a lifetime’s habit of voting Labour was broken.  This year, as last, there is a real whiff of change in the air.

Folk – despite what politicians and parties sometimes think – aren’t stupid.  For every achievement cited by Labour, they can point to a failure.  Just in case they can’t, here’s ten things lurking in Scottish government statistics that Labour won’t want the people of Glasgow to know before 3 May.

1. Between 2000 and 2010, Glasgow has had the highest prevalence of problem drug users of any local authority in Scotland

Not just in actual numbers but in percentage terms.  Throughout the last ten years, the level of problem drug use has remained stubbornly high, with little evidence of improvement.

2. Glasgow has the highest average class size in primary school in all of Scotland

According to the 2011 pupil census, the average primary school class size  in Glasgow is 24.6.  In primary one, the average class size is 22.1 and in primary two and three, it is over 25 – over the statutory limit, in fact.

3. It also has one of the lowest rates in Scotland of pupils who stay on beyond fifth year at school

While Glasgow does relatively well at encouraging young people to stay on until fifth year, the drop-out rate at sixth year is one of the worst.  In neighbouring East Renfrewshire, the staying-on rate for S3 – S6 is 82.2%, while in Glasgow it is only 47.5%.

4. The council has the highest number of primary school teachers and second highest number of secondary school teachers on temporary contracts

In the last teacher census, there were 390 primary teachers on temporary contracts – nearly 9% of the total in Scotland.  And it has 297 secondary teachers on temporary contracts, second only to North Lanarkshire – another local authority where Labour’s dominance is threatened.   Over 14% of Glasgow’s secondary teachers are temporary – and only 38 of these are probationary, newly qualified teachers.

5. Despite having relatively high numbers of children with additional support needs, Glasgow has fewer ASN auxiliary staff and classroom assistants in secondary schools (147) than Fife does (183)

6. Glasgow spent less on repairing, altering and maintaining schools last year than Argyll and Bute, Edinburgh, Fife and Stirling did

Yet, Glasgow has significantly more schools than any of these other local authorities.  Of course, a smaller repair bill might be a good thing – and all of Glasgow’s secondary schools were rebuilt or refurbished putting them in the “good” category – but there are significant numbers of primary and special schools in the poor or bad categories.

7. By contrast, Glasgow has one of the largest bills for PFI payments and charges – amounting to over £46m in 2010-11

This is the cost of all that refurbishment and new build under the old Scottish Executive’s PFI and PPP model.  Every year, over £46 million goes out of Glasgow’s budget into the pockets of private sector firms.

8. Glasgow had the lowest rate of council tax collection in Scotland in 2010-11

After years of languishing far behind other local authorities, Glasgow has made significant progress in the last few years but it still lags behind other councils, and last year only collected just over 92% of the council tax due in its area.  Even increasing the rate of collection by one or two per cent would provide substantial, additional revenue for expenditure – and perhaps stave off some cuts in services.

9. The number of dependent children in temporary homeless accommodation in Glasgow has not reduced over the last four years – and accounts for a quarter of all children in Scotland in temporary accommodation

Over 1300 children spent Christmas last year in temporary accommodation in Glasgow.  The numbers have come down slightly, particularly from 2008 and 2009, back to 2007 levels.  Thankfully, very few families are being housed temporarily in bed and breakfast accommodation, but high levels of homelessness among families with children in Glasgow persists.

10. Glasgow is more employment AND income deprived than any other local authority

According to the SIMD data for 2009, Glasgow had a higher proportion of working age population unemployed (“employment deprived”) than any other local authority (19.2%), had the largest number of areas classified as most employment deprived 41% (taking over this top position again from Inverclyde).  It also had the largest proportion of its population classified as income derived (26.4%).

Poor and workless – and more of the most poor and most workless areas and communities within its boundaries than any other council.  It’s definitely not a legacy to be proud of.