AMID the chaos of Brexit, you could be forgiven for not realising that tomorrow is budget day in Scotland. This is the time of year when Finance Secretary Derek Mackay stands up and announces his draft spending plans, complains about not having enough powers, then fails to use the powers he does have.
The focus will largely be on the tinkering that Mr Mackay will do to income tax rates, now that this is fully devolved.
But I’ll mainly be looking very closely to see how much he is going to hand to Scotland’s cash-strapped councils.
What we do know is that local government budgets have been slashed by more than £800 million in real terms over the last three financial years. That’s a spending decision made directly by the SNP in Holyrood.
If we look at 2015-16, Edinburgh City Council received £832m from the Government; and this year it’s down to £801m. What will it be in 2019?
These cuts come at a time when the demand for services is growing.
Behind these numbers there is a very real impact that I am increasingly aware of when I conduct constituency surgeries and when residents call my office.
Chaos is an over-used word, but it certainly applies to at least three services in our city – social care, housing and bin collections.
Last week, an inspection revealed that social care chiefs have failed to meet key recommendations one year after a damning report into the delivery of services.
Many older people are unable to get help even when their needs are ‘critical or substantial’ – not enough is being done to help people stay in their own homes which is adding to the NHS Lothian delayed discharge crisis; there are lengthy waiting lists for users; staff can’t cope with demand with volunteers having to step in; and ‘performance and service quality’ of care-at-home has worsened.
Put simply, thousands of vulnerable, elderly residents in Edinburgh are being failed. As I told the First Minister last week, it’s time for a government task force to be sent in to fix the social care crisis.
I wrote about the capital’s housing crisis on these pages last week, and the distressing reality that children will be waking up on Christmas morning in cold, damp hostel rooms, with no presents to open and barely any food to eat.
Well done to the hundreds of people who took part in a mass sleepout in the city at the weekend, as part of efforts by organisers Social Bite to raise millions to help homeless people across Scotland.
It’s a travesty that this is a reality for so many of our fellow citizens every night, and we don’t have enough homes available for social rent.
Problems with bin collections don’t compare with the social care and housing crises, but I do know that residents across the city are exasperated.
Last week, this paper reported on the unrealistic workloads which have led to the disruption, with 8000 complaints to the council in the five weeks after a new system was introduced.
My office has been repeatedly contacted by residents, particularly elderly citizens, who don’t understand why their rubbish is not being taken away. Union Unison says that 32 posts have been axed as part of the reorganisation, with inevitable consequences.
All these problems facing our city are fixable. But it requires cold, hard cash.
Tomorrow, Derek Mackay can stand up in the chamber and announce that he will use Holyrood’s powers to make the very richest in society pay more to fund public services for us all.
He can use that money to stop the cuts to Edinburgh City Council, which have left elderly residents not receiving the care they need, children living in cold hostels, and rubbish piling up on the kerbside.
Come on Derek – do the right thing.
Still a chance to put a stop to Brexit madness
WHAT extraordinary drama at Westminster.
After all the twists and turns of the Brexit saga, yesterday we came within 24 hours of the meaningful vote – only for it be cancelled at the last minute. It’s now simply impossible to predict what is going to happen over the coming hours and days.
There is, of course, no such thing as a good Brexit deal, because leaving the EU will cost jobs. So whenever the vote on Theresa May’s deal happens – tweaked or not – I very much hope that MPs will reject it, because it would make people in this city worse off.
I’m confident that every MP representing our region will vote against it: my Labour colleagues Ian Murray, Danielle Rowley and Martin Whitfield; the SNP’s Joanna Cherry, Tommy Sheppard , Hannah Bardell and Deidre Brock; and LibDem Christine Jardine.
The least-worst option for our economy would be to remain in the Single Market and the Customs Union, which would save many of the jobs that are crucial for growth in this city.
But the best deal is the one we currently have as a full member of the European Union.
And that’s an option we can still choose – it doesn’t have to be a choice between a bad deal or no-deal. Yesterday’s ruling in the European Court of Justice proved that, once and for all.
We can remain in the EU with a People’s Vote. Support for this is growing every day in the country, and inch-by-inch it’s gaining support in the Commons too. At the weekend, Shadow sports minister Rosena Allin-Khan became the latest MP to join the People’s Vote campaign and said it is ‘time to take the Brexit decision back to the people’.
I am hopeful we will soon reach the point where there is a parliamentary majority for a People’s Vote.
And then we can end this Brexit madness.
Compassionate Conservatives? Tories have shown they are as toxic as ever
Whether it’s carers in care homes or academics in our universities, this city is powered by the labour of EU nationals.
As many as 39,000 of them have chosen to make Edinburgh their home. It’s where their roots are, where their taxes are paid, and where their families are raised.
Yet still, there’s a huge intimidating question mark hanging over their heads caused by Brexit. The Tories’ attempt to alleviate fears that they might not be allowed to stay is a settled status scheme, which would provide EU nationals with the necessary paperwork to, well, stay exactly where they, and doing what they are doing. And the price of such a privilege? £65.
Rightly outraged, but also acutely aware of the impact on key services if migrants leave, the SNP government offered to pay it for all EU nationals in Scotland that work in our public services.
Fast forward a few weeks and this miserly miserable excuse for a UK Government has constructed the scheme in such a way that payments from third parties won’t be accepted. Ministers will literally make EU nationals pay the price of their own foolhardiness.
The SNP used to spend much of its time retoxifying the Tories after a decade-long makeover under the likes of David Cameron and Ruth Davidson, whose attempts to craft a more compassionate Conservatism made some headway. The SNP need not bother any more.
The Nationalists can put their feet up and watch the Tories destroy any progress themselves with policies like this, the rape clause, and Universal Credit.