By Jon Molyneux, spokesperson for Local Democracy, and Allan Faulds, spokesperson for Finance.
Last Thursday, Cllr Philip Braat had the job of moving what everyone expects will be Labour’s final Glasgow City Council budget for quite some time.
Even after £17 million cuts were avoided thanks to the historic budget deal secured by Green MSPs at Holyrood, Cllr Braat and his Labour colleagues contrived to produce a budget full of grumbles and moans and lacking any coherent vision. The Greens on the other hand showed how the budget could protect public services, reversing cuts to janitors, keeping one for every school, and blocking £1m cuts to sheltered housing, as well as setting out a vision for a prosperous, low carbon Glasgow, with investment in LED lighting, publically-owned electric buses and funding for food recycling and new cycle routes.
The local elections in May provide an opportunity not just to relieve Labour of the responsibility of setting the budget, but potentially to also bring an end to one-party-rule, and therefore to transform the very nature of how decisions about local financing are made.
The Scottish Greens are the party with a bold view of how local democracy can be transformed in order to put power back in the hands of local people.
There are two key elements to our vision.
First, we need to massively strengthen the hand of local councils. It makes a mockery of the words ‘local government’ when around 75% of councils’ funds are handed down from Holyrood, and they’re placed in shackles by the Finance Secretary about what they can do to raise the rest via council tax and other local levies. Greens fully support the conclusions of CoSLA’s commission on local democracy and we believe councils should be able to raise at least half of their required revenues locally.
We will keep up demands to replace the antiquated and unfair Council Tax with a fairer alternative Residential Property Tax, set freely by local councils without interference from the Scottish Government. This would raise additional funds for vital local services, whilst cutting bills for most households in the city. And we’ll also explore bold tax options to transform local communities, like a Visitor Levy on hotel nights which could unlock new funds for our libraries, museums and leisure services, and a Vacant Land Tax which could bring swathes of Glasgow’s derelict land back into productive use.
So, sorting out local finance is an absolute prerequisite for a better local democracy.
But beyond that, we also need to move to radically different ways of making sure that spending decisions actually reflect local priorities. That means a fundamental overhaul of how the council works.
The Greens were the first party to introduce participatory budget setting into Scotland, with former Edinburgh councillor Maggie Chapman’s hugely successful Leith Decides initiative. A similar scheme has been rolled out in Glasgow and other parties are proposing to expand on this. But their plans are still some way short of showing a genuine understanding of what it means to be participative.
It’s not enough just to sign cheques based on the outcome of a public vote. This isn’t X-Factor. There needs to be a genuine commitment to making the council inclusive, so that people can access the information they need to help make decisions more easily, as well as setting up new structures for participation, which allow people from all sorts of backgrounds to get involved in ways that work for them. Greens understand these opportunities better than any other party.
Our vision is for a Glasgow budget that is made in Glasgow, financed by Glasgow, and designed by Glaswegians around their shared priorities. We need to commit paternalistic systems and power structures to the bin, along with the political parties that continue to be steeped in them.
Voting Green in May means voting for a credible, radical alternative that will put power back in the hands of local people.