Local Government and Social Care Funding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:10 pm on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland) 6:10 pm, 24th April 2019

It is a privilege to follow a very moving speech by my hon. Friend Laura Smith, who outlined the severe problems faced by our social care service.

On a slightly different note, last year I had the pleasure of attending the launch of renovation works to an historic old primary school in my constituency. Derelict for several years, the school lies at the heart of the Parkhouse district of my constituency of Glasgow North East. The Wheatley Group—the inheritor of Glasgow’s municipal housing stock—acquired the school for conversion to new sheltered social housing. The name Wheatley and the history of the school itself evoked a reflection on the long and proud heritage of municipal socialism in Glasgow, and what the prospects might be for that tradition to re-emerge in the future.

Parkhouse was one of the first districts to be developed for municipal housing by the Glasgow Corporation after the passing of the historic Housing Act 1924, led by Glasgow Labour MP John Wheatley, during the first Labour Government. These state subsidies for house building led directly to the creation of Glasgow’s municipal housing department, and saw the large-scale building of some 57,000 new homes in Parkhouse and other districts such as Riddrie and Carntyne in my constituency during the inter-war period. Indeed, the pressure to develop suitable land for new municipal housing led to Glasgow more than doubling in size, from over 5,000 hectares to over 12,000 hectares during the 1920s and 1930s.

At that time, the gas supply, water, electricity, subway, hospitals, tramways and even the telephones were all in direct municipal ownership, and there was much talk of Glasgow as a European model for municipal socialism. Indeed, at the international conference on workers’ dwelling houses in Paris in 1900, Glasgow Councillor Daniel Macaulay Stevenson, after learning that the municipal control of housing was regarded as impractical by delegates, remarked that, far from that being the case, it had been carried out to an ever greater extent for 29 years in Glasgow. He elucidated the Glasgow Corporation’s extensive portfolio of services under municipal ownership, which the delegates regarded as

“nothing short of rank socialism”.

It is interesting to see that some sentiments do not change, even more than a century later.

The scale of that sort of intervention to address the city’s social problems is scarcely imaginable today. There is simply no capacity or scope within local government to undertake the sort of mission-driven improvement that can massively improve quality of life. Today in Scotland, after two decades of devolution, we now have the most centralised system of government of any country in Europe. We have the absurdity of the Glasgow city region’s wealthiest suburbs carved up into self-contained enclaves, where the residents enjoy relatively low rates of council tax, while the residents of the urban core of the city—home to the poorest communities in the region—must carry the burden of maintaining and operating all the core services and amenities enjoyed by its wealthier suburban free riders. Not only has Glasgow been stripped of its residential tax base through historical depopulation and the relatively recent gerrymandering of its suburbs; the advent of the Scottish Parliament has seen a continuing war of attrition against the power of local government.

This year, the Scottish Government are set to impose cuts on Glasgow that are unprecedented in recent times and will lead to a further decline in public services in the city. According to the Scottish Parliament’s information service, the local government revenue budget was cut by 6.9%, whereas the Scottish Government’s revenue budget fell by just 1.6%, between 2013 and 2018. Over the same period, Glasgow City Council’s core budget has been cut by 12.8%. That is almost twice the average cut to Scotland’s 32 council areas, and seven times the cuts to the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government are proposing a further disproportionate cut to Glasgow of 3.6%—or £41 million—this year.

Although there is no question but that the Tories are to blame for cutting the block grant of the Government in Edinburgh by 1.6%, to multiply the percentage cut by four to 6.9% for councils—and by even more than that in Glasgow—is a deep injustice. The only conclusion we can draw is that local government, and Glasgow in particular, has been targeted disproportionately. Our city is having to absorb a cut to its budget proportionately seven times greater than the cut being absorbed by the Government in Edinburgh. That is £233 per head for each Glaswegian between 2010 and 2018.

Already 30,000 Scottish council jobs have gone, swimming pools are being closed, community health projects face non-renewal, class sizes are rising, pupil attainment is stalling, high streets are declining, community groups are losing grants, youth clubs are closing, grass is being left uncut, litter is piling up, roads and pavements are in serious disrepair, and social workers face ever-increasing case loads. In Glasgow North East, we face the potential closure of a local swimming pool, a sports centre and numerous municipal golf courses that were only spared cuts this year after a determined local campaign to save them caused such embarrassment that the council reversed its decision.

Glasgow is unfairly bearing the brunt of decisions to scale up the cuts as a share of its overall budget compared with the Scottish Government. Labour will end Tory austerity at source when the Leader of the Opposition steps into No. 10 Downing Street, but in the meantime Glasgow simply cannot take a further hit that is so disproportionate to that being taken by the Scottish Government. I am continually being contacted by spontaneous local campaigns coming into existence to fight the cuts that Glasgow is making because of the severe retrenchment it has been asked to make. We are facing the closure of entire facilities and services, and the council’s withdrawal from non-statutory quality-of-life provision in my constituency, which is one of the poorest parts of this country. Indeed, last year, the SNP tried to pass the burden of cuts on to working parents by doubling childcare fees, and was only forced to retreat after a determined local campaign.

The Scottish Government need to recognise that Glasgow’s settlement should be no worse than the 1.6% cut that the Scottish Government block grant has suffered since 2013. I plead with the Scottish Government and the UK Government to combine to ensure that, at a bare minimum, they rescind this negative multiplier effect.