As we approach the end of this year, Theresa May is busy trying to get agreement with Europe (which could be completely different from the time I write this to the point you read it), we’re gearing up as a council to set our budget for the next four years, and there’s been chatter and scepticism about coalitions.
As a Labour councillor I get asked a lot, from my own party, about the point of being in a coalition with the Nationalists and the Tories like to tell you constantly that they don’t work.
So, in the midst of everything this year, I thought I’d throw my tuppence in and tell you why, as Depute Leader of the Council, I am part of this coalition.
Let’s start by being clear what local government means. Yes it’s about trying to build and maintain schools to the best we can. It’s about fixing the roads and pavements and ensuring we provide better affordable housing to those that need it. It’s about ensuring the elderly can have dignity, respect, and quality care where and when they need it
But it’s also about setting a vision, delivering new policies and achieving equitable, fair change for the city against the backdrop of uncertainty nationally. The Tories are right – we couldn’t go into coalition with them because they wouldn’t sign up to key principles such as protection of our staff with a no compulsory redundancy policy and supporting a meaningful relationship with our trade unions. With a hand in the coalition at City Chambers, Labour have been able to assure this for all our staff; who I consider to be most important asset to the city.
I’ve spoken before about the state of poverty in our city. In Edinburgh, 16 per cent of the city (82,000 people) live below the poverty line. In the city 41 per cent of all lone parents, 26 per cent of single adults and 13 per cent of all pensioners live on incomes below the poverty threshold. More than this, 54 per cent of people in poverty live in households where at least one adult is in work – this has gone up ten per cent in the past ten days.
This says to me that in our city single parents, the elderly and those working hard to earn a living are struggling to do simple things like heat their home, pay their rent or buy essentials for their children. The vulnerable and isolated in this city are struggling.
This is why am I part of the coalition.
I am not content to sit on the sidelines as the impact of Westminster cuts, Tory austerity and indecision over the European Union makes life worse than it was ten years ago for those trying to make an honest living in our city.
Because I am part of a coalition, I will co- chair the newly established Edinburgh Poverty Commission alongside Jim McCormick from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. We will meet for the first time before the end of the month, alongside 11 other expert commissioners. And because I have insisted, two of commissioners will be Edinburgh residents with lived experience of poverty in this city. At the end of next year, I hope this commission will have made some difference, even in a small way, to those horrible statistics and division they represent in our city.
Even in the last six months, we as a coalition have delivered wider initiatives with partner organisations and our trade union colleagues that will deliver real difference to this city. For example, we’ve put through a new modern slavery charter in collaboration with the Cooperative movement to protect workers in our city from one of the greatest horrors in our time. We’ve set up Holiday Hunger projects, introduced the Fair Fringe to ensure the success of our festivals are shared and enjoyed by all.
Edinburgh Labour, supported by our national party, has been delivering like this for our city as coalition partners for the last six-and-a-half years. Being part of a power-sharing agreement allows us to protect what we believe in
Of course, the SNP government makes its own choices and, of course, the Labour Group will continue to campaign against Holyrood and Westminster on reductions in local government funding. But I don’t want to sit on the sidelines. I’m here to do what I can to do, against all of this, to make life just a bit better for those who need it.
Cammy Day is leader of the Labour Group at Edinburgh City Council