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Glasgow's missing millions

The SNP is disproportionately targeting Labour-run local authorities, a local councillor claims.

On Thursday Glasgow city council set its budget. Yet again it faces a real terms cut.

The SNP will, as they always do, naturally seek to blame Westminster, and it is true that funding reductions by the UK government have had an effect. But these have been intensified as the Nationalist government in Edinburgh has hacked away at Glasgow’s share of the overall local authority pot year after year.

Since the SNP minority government first allied with the Tories to set a budget in 2008, a habit they continued throughout their first term, Glasgow has lost £370,000,000, in total, and the pace has been accelerating. The Scottish government’s own figures show that if Glasgow got the same share of the pot as it did under Labour, it would have had an extra £96m this year. Glasgow city Council’s estimates for the coming year are that this gap will swell to £109m, as Scotland’s biggest city once again sees its share cut. We now know where at least a hefty piece of the SNP’s £444m underspend has come from. It is money that could have been spent on the people of Glasgow.

The Nationalists insist that they are helpless in the face of Westminster. Indeed this was the line dutifully parroted by Nationalist councillors in the budget debate. At no point were any of them prepared to diverge from the line they were given by Edinburgh and fight for their constituents’ interests.

These lines from Holyrood would be more believable, were it not for the fact that some areas seem to have been strangely shielded from the storm according to figures directly from the Scottish government.

Angus, the only council where the Nationalists have an outright majority, and which sends SNP MP Mike Weir to parliament, has seen its share of the pot actually increase, so that it has had an extra £3m this year than it would under the allocation when the SNP came to power.

Perth & Kinross, run by the SNP with Tory support and returning an SNP MP in Pete Wishart, has seen its share of the pot go up year on year, and had an additional £13m in its 2014-15 budget from these adjustments to funding shares.

Aberdeenshire, the local authority where Alex Salmond had his Westminster seat for many years and where he hopes to have one again, gets an extra £16m this year. Aberdeenshire has an unemployment rate a third of that of Glasgow.

Just as the Thatcher government tore down the democratic structures of the urban centres of England for daring to oppose her, so the Nationalists, similarly intolerant of dissent, are deliberately throttling Scotland’s greatest city.

The formula is simple. Slash a council’s revenue stream, bar it from raising money through the rates, let the difficult cases fall onto the social care roles and then watch as Labour councils are forced to do your dirty work of cuts for you, while you use every crisis to centralise power.

The Nationalists seek to lecture Labour on its roots, while their policies are socialism in reverse. Let us be clear. The redistribution away from areas of need is by definition regressive.  This is not “progressive politics”, it is the antithesis.

The Nationalist attacks on local democracy, most recently articulated by their MSP Joan McAlpine, argue that Scotland’s cities cannot go it alone. Holyrood thinks Glasgow is too feart to stand up to it, to demand that it gets its fair share. The people of this great city do not need to be protected from their decisions by the government in Edinburgh, and still less will they stand for being robbed so the Nationalists can buy votes in its heartlands.

Labour has an alternative. The party has pledged to give the cities of our island the resources to solve their own problems. We are one of the great industrial, cosmopolitan cities of Europe, and given our fair share of money and power there is so much more that could be done. Glasgow must not be denied this opportunity because of nation-building politicians in Edinburgh.

Matt Kerr is a Labour councillor in Glasgow. He tweets as @Cllr_Matt_Kerr.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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