Edinburgh Council strikes: SNP government needs to provide fair funding so council can give staff a fair pay rise – Kevin Lang

It is 20 years since my grandmother passed away. Even after all this time, I find it amazing how much I think of her.

She was one of those people who would use the same little sayings or catchphrases, over and over again.

As a young boy and even when she would tell me something for what felt like the 50th time, I would simply smile and nod like it was first time I had heard such sage advice or astute wisdom.

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Two of her phrases have been ringing in my ears this week. “You don’t get something for nothing,” she’d proclaim. The other was, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”.

Both are relevant in the context of the first strikes by council waste and street cleaning staff for as long as anyone can remember.

In the Lib Dems, we talk a lot about the need for Edinburgh Council to get the basics right. It is the basics that often matter most and it is the basics that people rightly expect in return for the increasing amount of council tax they need to pay each year.

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Emptying the bins, keeping our streets clean, running our recycling centres; these are some of those most basic but most critical services we all depend on.

And it takes people to do it – hard working people, people who will work even at the height of a pandemic, people who will go out in the pouring rain while many of us get to work inside warm offices or from home.

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People protest outside Edinburgh City Council chambers as cleansing workers begin strike action (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)
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Edinburgh bin strike: Pictures show the strikers picket outside the Council offi...
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As I write this article (and it’s still a fluid situation), waste and street cleaning workers have been offered a pay rise of 3.5 per cent. This just days after the Bank of England confirmed inflation had risen to over 10 per cent for the first time in 40 years. Plus, we know even tougher times lurk on the horizon with what could be a crippling hike in energy costs over the winter.

Against this backdrop, is 3.5 per cent really the best we can do for these essential workers?

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It has certainly not taken long before the effects of the strike have been felt and the situation will inevitably worsen if the action goes all the way to the end of the month. As my gran would say, “you don’t know the value of something until it’s gone”.

But the crisis has also exposed the weakness of councils to respond to issues like this.

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Such has been the severity of the SNP’s year-on-year cuts to local government grants, such has been the hollowing out of council budgets, that there is such limited financial flexibility, such little wiggle-room to find the money needed for increased pay for staff.

As my gran would say, “you can’t get something for nothing”. Ultimately, if the council spends more in one area, it needs to spend less money somewhere else. Plus, we’re finding there is less and less of a cake to divvy up each year.

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We simply cannot go on like this. It shows why we desperately need proper funding of Edinburgh Council so our workers can be paid fairly for delivering the services residents across our city want, need and expect.

Councillor Kevin Lang is leader of the Liberal Democrats on Edinburgh Council