Forget Rwanda and independence, the real crisis is in councils - Alexander Brown

Forget Rwanda and independence, the real crisis is in councils

It’s very easy following politics to focus on the discourse of the day, whatever line is being pushed by our leaders at any given moment.

Campaigning is a game of slogans, pledges and drives, with every newspaper a battleground not just to win the argument, but lead the conversation.

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Boris Johnson got this completely, repeating “Get Brexit Done” incessantly, knowing if he simply willed the phrase into the public consciousness, there would be less focus on the horrific financial ramifications.

First Minister Humza Yousaf froze council tax.First Minister Humza Yousaf froze council tax.
First Minister Humza Yousaf froze council tax.

It’s the same for all the parties. The SNP are incapable of discussing anything without linking it to independence, in the same way everything the Tories do has to be linked to patriotism, rather than, say, economic reality.

Even those who loudly lament the “liberal elite” are out of touch fail to escape from the hellscape of immigration and free speech discourse. They are stuck in protest, rather than highlighting the real issues impacting people right now.

This has meant we in the media, and the wider public, have spent the past year or so being battered over the head with slogans such as “stop the boats”, “stronger for Scotland” or Labour’s “give Britain its future back”.

These are all just words and, while there is undoubtedly some policy behind it, it’s always big picture stuff, rather than the immediate crisis facing us right now. These throwaway phrases offer nothing of substance as the country burns, and ignore one of the most troubling issues not just in Scotland, but all of the UK.

This week the latest report on council finances from the Accounts Commission showed the total budget gap in the country’s local authorities has almost doubled in the last year to £725 million. Essentially, councils are in deep trouble, staring into the abyss as our leaders treat leadership like a battle for headlines, rather than a duty to serve.

While funding has been increased by the SNP, the council tax freeze, which was not briefed to councils before it was announced, has local authorities desperately worried about how they’re going to fund public services. It’s a boost for Humza Yousaf and saves the public money, but a drag on local government’s ability to provide vital services.

Things are just as bad down the road, where one in five council leaders south of the border say they are likely to declare bankruptcy in the next 15 months. Sure, they’ve been given a 6.5 per cent increase in funds, but it’s nowhere near enough for services already hollowed out by years of austerity.

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This will not get a press conference, it will not get a visit from a leader to pose for photos, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Councils, which offer vital services in the community, especially to the vulnerable, face selling off assets, losing staff or cutting pay.

This comes against the backdrop of the UK Government spending £300 million on a Rwanda scheme that might be illegal, as well as however much its legal battles cost.

Councils are struggling and face going under. Powerful speeches, culture war spats and endless campaign relaunches will not save them. It’s time for politicians to take notice.



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