Setting South Lanarkshire’s budget – the view from the SNP
A Special Meeting of South Lanarkshire Council was held on Thursday 19 February. The principal business was to set the Council’s Budget for 2015/16, including setting Council House Rents, the Capital Programme for 2015/16, and the Living Wage.
Eddie McAvoy set out the Council’s achievements (readily acknowledged by the SNP Group) and the pressures on being able to balance the budget caused by the Scottish Government and COSLA*. However, he forgot to mention the pressures caused by the unitary charges for the Secondary Schools Private Finance Initiative, which, even after grant from the Scottish Government, come to many millions each year (more than the total savings required to balance the 2015/16 budget). Nor did he mention the effect on Council reserves of settling the Equal Pay claim. Perhaps he was being a bit selective!
Finally, to gain extra funding from the Scottish Government by giving guarantees on teacher numbers, he tabled an amendment to take out of the savings proposals some loss of teacher posts. At this point Anne Maggs, Leader of the SNP Group, requested a recess to allow consideration and discussion of the tabled amendment. Provost Eileen Logan, immediately granted this recess.
On returning from the recess, the SNP Group tabled another amendment in line with the position they have held for months about the effect on the vulnerable of some of the savings proposals. On the advice of the Head of Legal Services, this amendment was declared incompetent. The SNP Group will be challenging this ruling initially within the Council and subsequently with appropriate bodies. The Council Leader then shouted down a helpful intervention from the Chief Executive.
Thereafter the meeting became more and more shambolic with the Council Leader indulging in a rant, which included criticism of individuals, the SNP Group, other SNP Councils, the Scottish Government, and COSLA. The only contribution from the Labour elected members was rapturous applause, desk banging, shouting, and jeering in support of their Leader – so much for reasoned debate!
Finally, (against the advice of the Head of Legal Services) a roll call vote was called on the savings proposals including the amendment from the Council Leader. The result was announced as 38 to 25 in favour of the savings proposals. After a short time but after some councillors had left, the result was corrected and announced as 44 to 19 in favour of the savings proposals.
What was on display in a public meeting of SLC was typical Labour “bully-boy” behaviour – hardly a shining example of local democracy in action on the part of SLC or the Council Leader!
* To read more on the role of Labour in determining COSLA’s position, read this excellent piece by Cllr Susan Aitken