Comment: Beleaguered councils are worth saving

LET’S not forget all those vital council services, says Unison

LET’S not forget all those vital council services, says Unison

Of the 62,000 jobs lost across public services in Scotland since 2009, 40,000 job cuts have been in local councils. To be blunt, that’s 40,000 less people working for you: clearing up after you, caring for your elderly relatives, looking after and educating your children, keeping you fit and healthy, and keeping you safe.

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Joni Mitchell sang: ‘You don’t know what you’ve got, until it’s gone’, which seems apt being councils are bracing themselves for thousands more job losses, possibly half as much again.

Before we blame our dastardly politicians we should look closer to home. Even in my school days, and that’s awhile ago, we’d say ‘who cut your hair mate, the council?’ I remember my gran (she was from Lancashire) calling tap water ‘corporation pop’. It’s unlikely our politicians will change spending decisions until we change our deep-seated attitudes to the council. We make them an easy political hit.

Our NHS is rightly loved; its budgets are politically protected because the NHS is part of our identity and we all use it. Council’s should be equally so. Council services touch our lives every day and are as much part of our tradition of great public reform.

We travel safely down our streets and it’s not pitch dark at night because we have street lights. Fly tipping, a huge issue in many UK cities, attracts vermin. If you have a problem who do you call?

Our rubbish is recycled, our streets are swept, our dustbins emptied, and schools and nurseries open, and social care workers visit thousands in their homes getting them dressed, fed, and looked after. All because, our fore mothers and fathers had foresight.

Council services save lives. Councils introduced sewerage services because they recognised that they do as much to combat disease as any medicine or vaccination programme. Cholera was beaten by clean water. Getting people into decent affordable homes was crucial in defeating TB. Of course medical advances have delivered effective treatments, but stopping people getting ill in the first place comes from decent living conditions. And it’s cost effective.

Our 19th century urban middle class worked out that paying to be protected by private fire fighting services was pointless if your neighbours didn’t do it too. Like disease, fires don’t respect boundaries. These were part of the great reforms that make our country what it is today.

Now the big health challenges are heart disease, strokes, complications, from type 2 diabetes and poor mental health. Your council provides parks, sports and community centres keeping us active, combating these diseases.

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The current crisis in mental ill-health also needs investment in community mental health services, family support, addiction services and social work.

The present problem of so called ‘bed blocking’ in our hospitals will be solved through increased investment in our councils’ social care services. An ageing population is the public policy concern of our generation. Councils need to prepare now, instead they are withering under brutal cuts, and we are heading towards a social care crisis. Even Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, got this when he announced 2 per cent council tax flexibility for councils in England, as long as they spend it on social care.

Councils are worth saving. Our forefathers worked out that a local and democratic collective response to the big issues of the day benefited us all.

Councils play a crucial role in all our lives. And we may not feel the direct benefit but imagine no homeless services, or reduced child protection, or even further reduction in education services or social care. Even the good things in life like City gardeners, city events, pedestrianised streets, and The Commonwealth Games are all brought to you care of the council. Do you think town planners are just bureaucrats? Try living somewhere without them. Even your pint is a pint and you don’t get botulism from your take away on the way home because council officers were out earlier in the day to make sure the pubs and chip shops adhere to food safety laws.

And you know what? In the end there’s no avoiding it: We all die and need a funeral. Yes, that’s right, the council deal with this one too. And sorry to tell you, because of the brutal council cuts like most essential council services, funeral costs are rising.

Council services support our health and well being from cradle to grave. They are crucial to our way of life. UNISON is calling on the Scottish Government to hold an emergency task force to look at the future of local government in Scotland. Like our steel industry it may not be with us for much longer. At least not until you love to love your council, alternatively they will continue to be the focal point for thousands more job cuts. Remember that Joni Mitchell song; let’s show that we know what we’ve got and get-up, stand-up for your Council.