SNP-Labour coalition for Edinburgh gets go-ahead

Cammy Day
Cammy Day
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PLANS for an SNP-Labour coalition to run the Capital have finally got the go-ahead - 42 days after the council elections.

Labour’s Scottish executive committee (SEC) tonight gave its endorsement to the agreement which will see the two parties form a joint administration at the City Chambers.

Adam McVey

Adam McVey

But it is understood the approval came only after Edinburgh Labour group leader Cammy Day threatened to go ahead with the deal even if the SEC objected.

The SEC had blocked the coalition plans just 24 hours earlier, saying it still needed to be persuaded that the deal met the conditions laid down by the party for any partnership with other parties.

However, Cllr Day was said to be “furious” at the decision and it is understood he had a meeting with the SEC to make his feelings clear.

One source said: “Cammy was outraged about the SEC stance - he basically said if they didn’t agree he would go ahead with the deal anyway.”

Last month Labour suspended all its councillors in Aberdeen after they formed an alliance with the Conservatives.

Edinburgh was the last local authority in Scotland still without an administration six weeks after the council elections, which saw the SNP become the biggest party in the Capital for the first time.

The Nationalists now have 19 councillors, the Tories 18, Labour 12, the Greens eight and Lib Dems six.

An initial deal was hammered out between the SNP and Labour groups within five days of the election, but it was put on hold by Labour’s SEC amid claims the party was worried about being seen to ally itself with the SNP at the same as it was campaigning against it in the general election. Concerns were also voiced by local Labour activists.

It was widely expected, however, that the deal would be approved as soon as the election was over, so there was surprise and dismay when the SEC refused to endorse it on Wednesday night.

The Labour Party would not give reasons for the decision but said discussions were ongoing. A further meeting last night quickly gave the go-ahead.

The new coalition is based on an agreement which includes a total of 54 individual policy commitments as part of a “clear and transparent work programme”.

They include going ahead with the tram extension to Newhaven, provided the costs and timescale are “robust”, as well as building new schools, spending more on roads and pavements and setting up a homelessness task force.

SNP group leader Adam McVey said: “The SNP has been ready to lead the city since the election on May 4. I’m relieved that we’ve now got to a point where we can start implementing our bold policies to take the city forward, providing the certainty and leadership that our Capital deserves.”

Cllr Day said: “This is a huge step forward for our capital city, with Labour stepping up to ensure that we avoid further austerity and protect jobs.

“While our opponents engage in petty politics, Labour has worked hard to protect communities and local services in our great city. That is what responsible politics looks like.

“We have many differences with the SNP, and fundamentally oppose the Nationalists’ support for independence, but will always put Edinburgh first.”

The new coalition renews the partnership which ran the city for the past five years, but now with the SNP as the senior partner instead of Labour.

A special council meeting will now be called for Thursday next week when the administration will be formalised with the election of Cllr McVey as council leader and Cllr Day as deputy leader and the appointment of all the committee conveners.

There has, however, been division within the Labour group over the coalition. Four of the party’s 12 councillors have voted against the plans.

One of the concerns among those with reservations was that Labour could be signing up to share the blame for cuts in spending from the Scottish Government budget squeeze.

One source claimed these could amount to £100 million over three years. “People wonder why Labour councillors should take the convenerships of key committees and end up implementing austerity on behalf of the Scottish Government. Of course we want to get our policies through, but if you are just passing on austerity over and above existing cuts, that’s not what we should be doing.”

Another concern was that the SNP and Labour together still do not command an overall majority. “Last time we had a big majority and we had stability,” said the source.

But others say there are very few issues where all the other parties - Tories, Greens and Lib Dems - will all combine to vote against the coalition.

Key pledges from the city’s new coalition

Deliver a programme to build at least 10,000 social and affordable homes over the next five years with a plan to build 20,000 by 2027.

Direct development to growth corridors as the best way to accommodate extra housing and protect the green belt.

Deliver the City Region Deal.

Explore the introduction of fair rent zones.

Create a Homelessness Task Force.

Prioritise the use of brownfield sites and work with public sector and private landowners to develop land for affordable housing.

Invest £100 million in roads and pavements.

Guarantee 10 per cent of transport budget on improving cycling.

Improve Edinburgh’s air quality and reduce carbon emissions.

Explore the introduction of a lane rental for utility companies to reduce traffic pressure.

Retain Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams in public ownership.

Deliver the tram extension to Newhaven by 2022 after reviewing the business case and delivery plan to ensure they are robust.

Increase recycling from 46 per cent to 60 per cent.

Build two new secondary schools and ten primaries.

Improve and protect access to additional languages and music tuition

Increase the number of classroom assistants and support staff for children with additional needs.

Double free early learning and child care provision.

Improve access to library services and community centres, making them more digital, and delivering them in partnership with local communities.

Support the continued development of Gaelic Medium Education.

Build the new Meadowbank Sports Centre by 2021.

Increase allotment provision and support community gardens and food growing initiatives.

Establish a Child Poverty Action Unit.

Limit Council Tax increases to three per cent a year to 2021.

Continue policy of no compulsory redundancies and keep a presumption in favour of in-house service provision.

Devolve local decisions to four Locality Committees.