In recent weeks the media has been dominated by coverage of Brexit and the possibility of another Scottish independence referendum. However, there is another very important event on the horizon: on May 4, Scotland will vote in the local government elections.
Some people may think the result of these doesn’t matter. They would be wrong. Local councils provide many of the vital local public services that we all rely on.
For an example of the positive change that councils can effect, we need look no further than our own city of Edinburgh. Councils across Scotland have been hit hard by Scottish government cuts and Edinburgh is no exception. The SNP have cut £27.1 million from Edinburgh City Council’s budget in this year alone (a cut forced through with the support of Green MSPs).
However, despite this, Edinburgh’s Labour councillors have got on with their jobs – unlike SNP ministers, who haven’t passed any new legislation in a year – and continued making a positive impact on people’s lives. This isn’t an easy task given the SNP’s efforts to undermine local government.
Let’s look at the evidence. In recent years, Labour councillors have delivered two new secondary schools and £120 million of investment in education and extended early years provision with 11 new nurseries across Edinburgh. They have invested £600 million in housing, generating over 7000 jobs. They have worked with 500 local businesses to create a further 2000 jobs and apprenticeships for young people and significantly increased investment in public transport – maintaining Lothian Buses in local ownership.
Thanks to the passion and commitment of Edinburgh Labour councillors and the diligent work of thousands of council employees, life in Edinburgh has improved. But Edinburgh Labour is ambitious for the future of our city. We need to continue to broaden Edinburgh’s horizons, grow Edinburgh’s economy and invest more in Edinburgh’s public services.
Everyone wants the best for their children. They are the future. That’s why our ‘One City, Our City’ manifesto – written by local people – includes plans for new primary schools and more classroom assistants to ensure that the next generation have everything they need to achieve their potential.
We understand that Edinburgh can be an expensive place to live and we are committed to addressing stubborn poverty and inequality. So we will bring down the cost of housing by delivering a minimum of 16,000 low cost homes for rent and sale over the next 10 years.
We know that businesses across Edinburgh, especially those in financial services, are concerned about the impact of Brexit. So we will increase support for new businesses across the city, especially in new technologies, working in partnership with our world class universities and key sectors.
With an ageing population, it is vital that care services are improved, expanded, and administered with compassion. So we will take steps to increase the length and flexibility of care visits and grow budgets for adaptations in homes to aid independent living and help people stay in their own home with dignity.
We also need to stop the Scottish government wrestling powers from councils. They need to use their extensive powers to provide a fair funding settlement for councils, so we can protect and improve the services.
On May 4, you have the chance to send the SNP a message: stop passing on Tory austerity, start investing in local services, drop your plans for another divisive independence referendum and get back to governing the country. While others obsess over the constitution, Edinburgh Labour will always put Edinburgh first. That’s what makes these local elections so important.
n Ian Murray is Labour MP
for Edinburgh South