“A daunting prospect...” in which “there will be pain.” The summation of the new projection of cuts to Dundee City Council budgets by the council Finance Spokesperson Willie Sawyer.
Just when we thought the damning verdict in October from the council, in which they would need to cut budgets by £28 million over the next 2 years. The closure of Menzieshill High School and review of all other schools which have another facility within 3 miles of it. How much more could be stretched? How much more could the people of the city if Dundee suffer? With already the highest percentage of welfare sanctions, unemployment in the city continuing to rise as local communities are being left desolate to rot on the sidelines.
As it turns out, this was just the precursor. The Financial Statement by John Swinney in December and the subsequent 3.5% to council budgets has left DCC a wider hole to fill. Despite the announcements of £350 million investment in Health and Social Care partnerships, £70 million to maintain the Council Tax freeze and £88 million to maintain teachers numbers; Dundee City Council have announced that they must now cut £23 million in the year 2016/17 alone. Already more than 6000 council staff have received written offers of voluntary redundancy in a bid to reduce costs. This will mean more vital public services, more support lines for communities, seniors and youths that will be understaffed, reduced service or cut altogether.
It is clear that the current situation is not working. Yet other political parties in the council only contribution is to demand that the council tax freeze be lifted. A motion denounced by the SNP members of council as it would invoke financial penalties from the Scottish Government of up to £1.75 million. This proposal, while increasing the budget slightly, would do nothing to address the startling inequality of the Council Tax.
The very nature of the system ensures that hard working families and larger groups are punished by having to rent or buy larger houses, sometimes through great financial hardship in itself due to outlandish rental prices. Within the current model of local authority tax, a couple with 3 children both working full time on the living wage living in a rented 3 bedroom house would pay significantly more in Council Tax than a single occupant on £75,000 a year living in a bought studio apartment. In no way is this tax fair or progressive, neither does it indicate one iota of understanding for working families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet.
Since the SSP last had members in the Scottish Parliament, we have campaigned for the removal of the council tax to be replaced by an income based Scottish Service Tax. With this we would radically tackle the current injustice and unfairness of the current model. This tax would ensure that those earning the least, would pay the lowest or nothing at all. While those earning the most would be charged a greater fee based on their income. Not only that but it would greatly increase the financial budgets of local authorities bringing in almost double what the Council Tax currently nets (£1.8bn) to £3.5bn a year.
Despite the SNP Scottish Government announcing the budget cut and the SNP led majority council voting it through, the blame cannot solely fall on the Nationalists. More than £3 billion in the last 3 years has been cut from the Scottish Government by Westminster. Yet if the SNP wish to claim to stand up for Scotland then it must do more to reject austerity than to limply condemning the Westminster Governments actions and impose a defiant stance against austerity and cuts. It’s time for the SNP and the rest of the opposition parties to stop bemoaning the Tories and stand up for the people they are so desperate to represent. The Scottish Socialist Party are proud to stand up with activists, Trade Unions and fellow Dundonians to march this Saturday against these cuts, to stand up for a no cuts budget, to protect vital services and to ensure that there is an alternative. Yes, the cahllenge is a daunting prospect, but to do nothing will only lead to pain. We hope to see you there.