Gina Davidson: Put your protest to better use

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WHERE are the protest marches and camps? Where are the petitions? Where is the Great Public Outcry?

Why does it seem that so few people are concerned with the slow destruction of vital services across Scotland because of a dogmatic approach to the way our local authorities are funded?

Right now there’s a group who call themselves the Sovereign Indigenous Peoples of Scotland – yes, you can laugh – who are parked illegally in their caravans outside the Holyrood Parliament.

Their actions and conspiracy theories are costing taxpayers God knows how much as civil servants go to court to have them removed, and all because they think Scotland should be an independent country and intend to stay there until it is.

They are supported by another band who can’t get their minds around the fact that Scotland voted No in the independence referendum, the so-called Scottish Resistance. Well, their stance, the camp, their resistance to the result of the vote is futile. It will achieve nothing. The referendum debate is over.

But these people are obviously interested in politics, in their communities, they want to make a difference. So why sit and bemoan a lost vote when serious things are happening to the communities they live in?

Educational attainment is falling, cancer waiting times are missed, the council tax freeze is destroying local services.

Why not then protest an issue about which they could actually raise general public awareness? Why not, for instance, declare they will not be moved until the council tax freeze is scrapped?

Local authority finances are in turmoil. Of course austerity and cuts from Westminster to Holyrood and so down the line would always have impacted on services, but tying both arms behind councillors backs by barring them from raising tax locally has been devastating.

And let’s not pretend the tax freeze has been redistributive. The people who’ve saved the most are those in the most expensive homes, the Band Hs who in Edinburgh have kept £77.50 in their pockets every year compared to just £26 saved by those in Band A properties.

These are tiny sums to individuals but added together they’ve cost the council hugely: services are cut to the bone and massive staff losses are on the cards. Even a much needed new primary school for the south of the city looks likely to be scrapped.

Today Edinburgh city council will agree its budget for the next year. Councillors have had to find £85m worth of savings this year - £147m up to 2020. These are far from being tiny sums.

This week the Green group of councillors at the City Chambers not only reiterated their support for the freeze to be scrapped – especially as the council is having to cut £85m from its budget over the next financial year – but instead suggested a 4.3 per cent rise to raise £10m to “head off the most damaging cuts and allow extra investment in school buildings and paying care staff.”

Cllr Gavin Corbett points to the council’s own budget consultation which found that 63 per cent – of those who took part – were happy for the tax to rise to pay for services and offset cuts.

The Labour/SNP ruling group had also been suggesting a three per cent rise before it became obvious the freeze was not to end.

Of course the idea of paying more tax would make most people pause – especially in these straightened times. But a 4.3 per cent rise would mean just 97p more a week for people in Band D homes, the average home. It would be just 64p a week for Band A, the lowest rung.

And although that wouldn’t stop all cuts, it could go some way to alleviating pain in particular areas.

Council leader, Labour’s Andrew Burns. has made it clear he believes local government finance is broken – that the council tax, even unfrozen, is not the best way to raise local taxes and that Edinburgh in particular could benefit from other forms such as a tourist tax. Then there are sales taxes, environmental taxes, resources taxes – but all of that would involve removing the shackles from councils and allowing them to govern their cities or counties properly.

Of course the main way to protest is to use your vote. There’s an election in a few months - the continuing council tax freeze should be raised with every candidate on every doorstep.