SNP cuts will leave people lonely and hungry – Kezia Dugdale

Storm in a teacup: Neighbourhood centres facing cuts give users an opportunity to get together (Picture: Greg Macvean)
Storm in a teacup: Neighbourhood centres facing cuts give users an opportunity to get together (Picture: Greg Macvean)
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First of all, an apology. To the line-dancing ladies of Drylaw Neighbourhood Centre, I’m sorry that as a consequence of me being 30 minutes late to meet with the centre’s board, you were all denied a freshly baked empire biscuit and slice of the most exquisite looking carrot cake.

But just think of the calories you saved! Nice try I know, but why would you care. You’ve all brought up your families and deserve to live a little. You also deserve to have groups and activities on in your own ­community and they’re currently disappearing faster than that cream cheese frosting.

Carrot cake gets the cuts message across

Carrot cake gets the cuts message across

Pilton Community Health Project has been the poster boy of this year’s dramatic cuts to local services, thinks to a high profile campaign and a recently launched crowdfunder.

There’s also 30 jobs at stake and the livelihoods of many service users. The outrage at the folly of cutting £200,000 from a service that actually saves the public purse has reached far and wide, securing the support of high profile celebrity chefs like Tom Kitchin and Martin Wishart.

Yet, PCHP is just one of dozens of community organisations and groups on a knife-edge.

The Drylaw Neighbourhood Centre has two and a half staff supported by a handful of dedicated volunteers who give up their time because they believe in their community. It is ­currently facing a 45 per cent cut to its core budget.

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Jessie is 90, so you can forgive her for hanging up her Stetson and watching the line dancing from the side of the hall where she waves her glitter-encrusted walking stick with approval. She comes to the Drylaw Centre on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. She won’t leave the house if it closes its doors. She’s not the only one.

Many of these cuts come from the new Integrated Joint Board, which was never going to please everyone when it had three times as many requests for cash as it had to hand out. Yet questions should be asked of its decision-making process when most of these cuts appear to fall in the north and west of the city. None of the councillors from this part of the city sit on the IJB. Locals here want to know if that is a coincidence. Just how is the citywide impact of these cuts measured?

Drylaw Neighbourhood Centre also has a contract to run the local breakfast club service. They have their own van which goes out in the morning to pick up kids from what the terribly PC would refer to as households with “multiple and complex needs” – chaotic households where there’s a chance no one will notice if the kids don’t get to school that day, or eat.

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This free breakfast club will disappear too when these cuts bite, yet the council says don’t despair – we’ve a policy to guarantee a breakfast club in every Edinburgh primary. That might be true, but that new breakfast club will cost £2 a week and will only be eaten if the children get to the school gate. The short-sighted nature of these cuts never fails to amaze me. The councillors know these cuts are devastating, they’re just putting a brave face on it knowing that there’s little they can do when they come from on high at Holyrood.

Maureen Child spoke for the country’s councillors in her contribution to the budget debate when she described just how fed up she was taking the blame for MSPs’ cuts. Scott Arthur this weekend has also rightly called out the SNP Government for stripping councils of cash only to claim credit for the pennies they throw back in from time to time – this time in the form of a high street regeneration fund which feels like too little, too late.

Services like these take years to build up and they run largely on the graft of volunteers and sweet tea. If they disappear, some city residents will be left lonely and hungry. There’s no sugar coating that.