Budget deal makes millions available to councils & paves way for bold reforms

Since being elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016, I have sought to work constructively with all MSPs from all parties to effect legislative, budgetary and policy changes that will benefit Scotland and my constituents.

There is no more important annual event than the budget which provides the funds and raises the revenues needed to support the public services that everyone relies upon including education, healthcare, transport, housing and the environment.

The budget deal struck between the 6 Green MSPs and the Government - making hundreds of millions of pounds available to local councils this year and committing to much bolder reforms in the coming years - shows how we can help our constituents by being constructive.

Edinburgh has been preparing to slash 300 jobs, Glasgow is considering closing all community facilities such as swimming pools and sports centres, Clackmannanshire is proposing a shorter school week and school closures, and Moray is getting ready to axe swimming pools, libraries and public toilets.

The worst of these measures can now be shelved.

It’s deeply disappointing but perhaps no surprise that the Tories and Lib Dems have no interest in helping their constituents and instead want to play games by bringing independence into the discussion when it has absolutely nothing to do with the budget process.

As for Labour, the Times revealed earlier this week that Alex Rowley wrote to Finance Secretary Derek Mackay to suggest that Labour would back the budget if extra funding was made available for local government. Labour would “work to support the government if we are able to secure protections against the worst of the cuts to local services”, Mr Rowley wrote. But he was slapped down by his leader. This is a gross dereliction of duty.

Labour Councillors across Scotland wanted their MSPs to engage, negotiate and seek a deal. They will be among the most disappointed to discover that Labour has nothing to offer the constituents that they seek to serve.

While Labour’s comfort zone appears to be whining about situations they could be helping to improve, Scottish Greens will always seek to work constructively with others who share our aims. Holyrood – and Scotland – needs diverse politics and progressive champions to hold the biggest parties to account.

The Green budget deal means local councils have up to £282m more to spend on providing local services. Over the last 3 years Scottish Greens have secured over £500m for local services. On top of that, we’re secured bold changes to provide local government with greater flexibility, certainty and autonomy for the years ahead.

At long last, we have a chance to replace the Council Tax with a more progressive local tax. Cross-party talks will start in the coming months. Draft legislation will be published before the end of this parliamentary session. There is already cross-party consensus that the council tax is out-of-date and unfair. Let us hope that the other opposition parties put their posturing aside and engage constructively with this golden opportunity.

It’s also welcome that we’ll see local councils given the choice to introduce a small additional charge to tourists’ accommodation bills to generate extra income to invest in public services, as is standard in other European cities. It’s an issue I’ve previously raised with the First Minister in parliament, pointing out how cities such as Scotland's capital are being denied normal European city status.

Research compiled by Edinburgh City Council has shown that a Visitor Levy would not deter tourists and could raise up to an extra £29million a year for local services. Such taxes are commonplace in other European cities and countries, including Paris, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam and Berlin. It will be up to local government to choose whether to levy this charge, so opponents such as the Tories reveal their true colours by wanting to prevent such local choices.

I’m also pleased we’ve secured something I’ve long called for - a new fiscal framework for local government. This system should ensure councils have greater financial stability and can plan on the basis on 3-year funding deals rather than the current hand-to-mouth situation.

The Green budget deal also includes a commitment from the Scottish Government to pay for a teacher pay settlement through an increase in the general resource grant, and will tackle the plastic pollution causing so much public concern by increasing the charge on single-use bags and a charge on single-use drinks cups.

For the first time in the Scottish Parliament’s history, we are embarking on a long overdue process to revitalise our local democracy to provide communities with more powers, more accountability and more flexibility to shape and deliver the services that people value.

By creating certainty and stability for public services and public sector employees throughout Scotland, the Scottish Greens are leading the change, making Scotland the fairer the country we aspire to be.