Easter political round-up

Dear Democrat reader,

As we were saying before we were pleasantly interrupted by the Easter Holidays, the political scene in West Dunbartonshire and South Argyll has been anything but quiet. While we were away, the situation has become even more febrile. Here below is a catch up of events of the past two weeks. But it unfortunately will look a bit one-sided since the SNP refuse to contribute to the pages of the Dumbarton Democrat despite being given an assurance that we would endeavour to be even-handed. Then Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP administration at West Dunbartonshire Council, gave me a personal assurance this would change. But that has not happened. He failed to keep that promise. Neither Cllr McColl nor his Westminster buddy (boss?) Martin Docherty-Hughes have included The Democrat on their media mailing list. Politically, that is naïve and counter-productive, but it is not unexpected. The SNP in this area will have to grow up if it is to survive in West Dunbartonshire and South Argyll (Helensburgh and Lomond). As for Labour, they will have to up their game if they wish to become a force in local politics in future. Come on then, grow up and start fighting back SNP. But if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. The Democrat’s function will be to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We will consider it our duty to support worthwhile local causes and campaigns and give a voice to people currently denied one.

Bill for book

BILL HEANEY, Editor, The Dumbarton Democrat

Baillie’s busy Easter encompasses health, austerity, business and schools

Baillie Jackie MSP fishingMSP Jackie Baillie has praised the staff at the Vale of Leven Hospital’s Minor Injuries Unit and Medical Assessment Unit for treating more people than ever before. New figures obtained by the MSP from a Freedom of Information request to NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde show that the number of attendances to the hospital’s emergency units soared to over 17,000 in 2017, an increase of over 400 people on the previous year.  Staff at the Vale of Leven Hospital have met the increasing demand in a period of significant uncertainty and stress, with the outcome of a major review of acute services due in May which will shape the future of the hospital.  The MSP (pictured right) said: “The figures show a huge increase in demand for services at the Vale of Leven Hospital, and this is at a time when the future of our local hospital is uncertain. I have always said that the services provided at the Vale are top class and that there is the capacity to do so much more. Staff provide a high level of care for patients despite the challenges they face and an increasing demand on their time. The service they provide is second to none. The health board should make sure that services like these are retained in full at the Vale of Leven hospital”

Meanwhile, an independent report from the Accounts Commission has exposed the scale and impact of Scottish Government cuts to councils warning that the pressure to reduce service costs will make maintaining services for the elderly ‘difficult’.  Council budgets are allocated largely due to the population size, so councils which are likely to experience a decrease in population in the next twenty years are also expected to see a decline in their overall budgets.  Both West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute expect to see a reduction in population size, but at the same time both councils are expected to see growth in the percentage of people of a pensionable age or over. Maintaining services for the elderly, within the context of a decreasing budget, will force councils to make cuts to services in other areas.

MSP Jackie Baillie said: “These figures highlight yet again the impact that the SNPs cuts to council budgets are having on our poorest and most vulnerable members of the community.  The SNP is consistent in their rhetoric that local government is receiving a fair deal from this Scottish Government, but this independent report exposes that this is just simply not true.  Councils provide lifeline services for communities, so while the SNP continue to slash their budgets, Scottish Labour has a plan to empower local authorities with new ways to raise revenues locally. Putting money back into our communities and providing people with the services they deserve.”

And a new analysis from Scottish Labour has revealed that pensioner poverty in Scotland is at its highest level since the SNP came to power in 2007.

In total, the number of pensioners living in poverty after housing costs is now at 160,000 compared to 120,000 in 2010, which is a 33 per cent increase. This shows the impact that Tory austerity has had on Scottish pensioners, but it is also another example of the Scottish Government failing to protect Scotland’s elderly population. 

AUSTERITY

Jackie Baillie said: The shocking impact of the Tories’ austerity approach is now being felt by Scotland’s elderly population. These are members of our society who have worked hard all of their life and should now be secure in their retirement. With increasing pension age populations in both West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute our communities are going to see more older people in poverty than we have in the past. Pensioners deserve better than this. They deserve to have dignity in their retirement and to be able to live full lives. The SNP Government need to take this seriously and explain what they have done to combat the growing number of elderly people living in poverty.”

On the education front, the SNPs broken promise over classroom sizes has been exposed, according to Jackie Baillie.  The new analysis from the Scottish Pupil Census reveals that hundreds of primary school pupils in Argyll and Bute are being taught in classes with more than 30 pupils.  Ms Baillie highlighted the figures which show that the number of pupils being taught in classes of 30 or above has more than tripled since 2011.

SCHOOLS

In 2011 94 primary school pupils were in a class of more than 30, but the most recent information for 2017 shows that 348 pupils in the area are being taught in these huge class sizes.  She said: “This SNP Government has said that education is their top priority. They promised to raise attainment but in reality, we are seeing class sizes rise and the attainment gap between the richest and poorest children is as big as ever.

“Teachers are overworked and underpaid and they are now being asked to teach 30 or more children in one primary school class. Children who are dependent on the most help are not getting the support they need. 

“This is yet more evidence of this SNP government over promising and under delivering. We need change in our schools, teachers need support and resources. Children and staff in Argyll and Bute deserve better, it is time the Scottish Government gave local authorities the funding to properly resource our schools, teachers the pay rise they deserve, took action on workload so that every child gets the very best out of education.”

BUSINESS

The SNP is set to slash the budget for its flagship ‘Business Pledge’ by nearly 50 per cent this year.  Ministers have been forced into a review of the scheme under pressure from Scottish Labour, but the funding cut is set to hinder attempts to drive up signatories.  There is also no target to increase the number of the government’s own suppliers that have signed the pledge.  The scheme, which was launched by Nicola Sturgeon in 2015, requires private sector firms to pay the Living Wage, avoid using exploitative zero hours contracts and make progress on diversity and gender balance.  Firms that sign up to the pledge are also required to commit to prompt payment and play an active role in the community, with the aim of boosting productivity and competitiveness for Scotland’s economy.  Parliamentary Questions show that overall costs for 2017-18 are £24,115, but this is set to fall to just £13,000 in 2018-19.

It recently emerged that just 15 per cent of Scottish Government suppliers are signatories of the pledge.

Scottish Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale, who sits on Holyrood’s economy committee, said:Labour has repeatedly warned that this SNP scheme cannot just be a publicity stunt and while the government’s announcement of a review is welcome, these figures suggest the government is not committed to significantly driving up the number of signatories.  The huge cut in spending shows that the SNP is still not serious about encouraging companies to live up to the laudable aims of the pledge.  The fact that there is no target to increase take-up among the government’s own suppliers demonstrates a failure to lead by example.  We should be using the buying power of the government as we grow our economy to ensure workers are paid a fair wage and are not exploited by employers. While the Tories and SNP stand back and allow insecure work to spread, Labour would act to guarantee good jobs and strong businesses.”

The SNPs broken promise over classroom sizes has been exposed. The new analysis from the Scottish Pupil Census reveals that hundreds of primary school pupils in Argyll and Bute are being taught in classes with more than 30 pupils.

CLASSROOM SIZES

Helensburgh & Lomond Labour MSP Jackie Baillie highlighted the figures which show that the number of pupils being taught in classes of 30 or above has more than tripled since 2011.  In 2011 94 primary school pupils were in a class of more than 30, but the most recent information for 2017 shows that 348 pupils in the area are being taught in these huge class sizes.

Jackie Baillie said: “This SNP Government has said that education is their top priority. They promised to raise attainment but in reality, we are seeing class sizes rise and the attainment gap between the richest and poorest children is as big as ever.  Teachers are overworked and underpaid and they are now being asked to teach 30 or more children in one primary school class. Children who are dependent on the most help are not getting the support they need.

“This is yet more evidence of this SNP government over promising and under delivering. We need change in our schools, teachers need support and resources. Children and staff in Argyll and Bute deserve better, it is time the Scottish Government gave local authorities the funding to properly resource our schools, teachers the pay rise they deserve, took action on workload so that every child gets the very best out of education.”

GROWTH FAILURE

The SNP government’s failure to meet its own growth targets has cost the Scottish economy a staggering £13 billion, according to Jackie Baillie.  Its National Performance Framework(NPF) includes a commitment to ‘match the GDP growth rate of the small independent EU countries by 2017.’

Analysis by the independent experts at the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) reveals that if Scotland’s GDP had grown at the small EU country average, it would be £13 billion higher than the current level.

Labour said the figures revealed the SNP’s complacency on the Scottish economy and said it was time for a proper industrial strategy and a more planned approach to create jobs and drive growth.

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Economy Jackie Baillie said: “The cost of SNP complacency on the economy is a staggering £13 billion. That is a huge failure on the part of SNP ministers who don’t have a credible plan for economic growth.

“Ministers claiming the fundamentals of the economy are strong look increasingly out of touch. The reality is the SNP don’t have a plan to create jobs and drive growth and Scotland’s economy is suffering as a result.

SQUEEZED

“With wages squeezed, productivity flat lining and growth lagging behind the UK the SNP government can no longer afford to be so complacent.  Labour would do things differently with an industrial strategy to grow the economy, increase productivity and give a better deal for working people.  One thing SNP ministers should do to fix the lack of growth in the economy is to urgently review the £11 billion a year the Scottish Government spends on public contracts to deliver more inclusive economic growth.”

Urie's - Helensburgh's oldest business by Robert RyanOld and new businesses in Helensburgh.

Finally, new figures from Scottish Labour show that residents in West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute have been hit by SNP austerity.  The analysis shows that SNP cuts to the council’s budget since 2013-14 have cost local communities more than £100 per head. In 2013-14 West Dunbartonshire Council was given £2,180 revenue per head, but the in the 2018-19 budget this was reduced to just £2,076. Over the same period, in Argyll & Bute Council, the cuts have been even deeper, amounting to almost £230 per head. In 2013-14 Argyll and Bute received £2439 but this was reduced to £2212 in 2018-19.

The cuts to the council’s budget have had an adverse effect on local services with severe cuts being made to services throughout West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute.

Jackie Baillie said: “These figures reveal the true cost of SNP austerity for individuals and communities here in West Dunbartonshire and in Argyll and Bute. This SNP Government has slashed budgets consistently for more than five years and this has a direct impact on lifeline services.

“People in West Dunbartonshire have lost more than £100 of spending per head and in Argyll & Bute, it’s a cut of almost £230 per head – that is simply shocking.  Labour has called on the Scottish Government to use the powers of the Parliament to end austerity and invest in our communities. This new evidence shows that this is needed now more than ever.”

New figures released for February 2018 show that the SNP’s broken promise on delayed discharge has cost NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde over £45 million to date.

Reverting back to health matters, Ms Baillie said that in February 2015, the SNP Health Secretary told the BBC Good Morning Scotland Programme “I want over the course of this year to eradicate delayed discharge out of the system and I am absolutely determined to do that” but, three years on, this promise has not been realised.”

Robison Shona Sunday Post picIn total, 195,576 days were spent in hospitals across Greater Glasgow and Clyde by people whose discharge has been delayed since Shona Robison, the Health Secretary (pictured right) promised to stamp out the practice. These are in the main, older people, waiting for care packages to enable them to return home, but this has become harder due to the cuts made to local Health & Social Care Partnerships by the Scottish Government.  Jackie Baillie said: “Delayed discharge costs our NHS millions of pounds per year. Shona Robison promised to eradicate delayed discharge over three years ago but in reality, little has changed and this is still having an impact on health services.

“Almost 200,000 bed days have been lost to delayed discharge in just the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area since this promise was made. This is yet another broken promise from this SNP Government, but more importantly they are failing our older people who should be back at home rather than in a hospital when they don’t need to be there.

“This is a lost £45 million that could have been reinvested back into the NHS to deliver better care and more support staff. Many of these delays are due to social care issues and delays in care assessments, this is a result of years of SNP governments slashing local authority budgets.”

PENSIONS MEETING

MSP Jackie Baillie has helped to organise a joint meeting with local WASPI co-ordinators to discuss the impact that State Pension Age changes have had on women in Dumbarton, the Vale of Leven and Helensburgh who were born in the 1950s.

The meeting, which will take place on Monday 16th April at 4pm in the Concord Centre in Dumbarton, is open to all women who have been affected by the changes made by the Conservative Government to the state pension age.

The changes made by the Conservative UK Government in 2011 increased the state pension age for women from 60 to 66 with immediate effect. This left women who were due to retire no time to make alternative retirement plans.  DSC_0022The local MSP will be joined by WASPI co-ordinators and other local MPs and MSPs on a cross party basis.  MSP Baillie said: “The changes to the state pension age which were made by the Tory government had have a terrible impact on thousands of women in Dumbarton and across Scotland.  I have been working with the cross-party group on WASPI in the Scottish Parliament which has support of almost all of the parties in Holyrood (pictured left) to pursue justice for those women affected. I am glad that we could bring this meeting to women in my constituency to raise awareness of the campaign; hear their very real concerns and learn what impact these changes have had on them and their families.  I would encourage women from across the area to attend the meeting if they are able. These changes are having a devastating impact and their voices need to be heard.”

EXCLUSION

MSP Baillie has condemned the SNP administration in West Dunbartonshire for their decision to exclude the press, public and staff from an emergency meeting to discuss the decision taken to reduce trade union facility time.

The meeting comes following an emergency motion tabled by Labour councillor David McBride which calls on the council to discuss the continuing dispute about facility time with the trade unions to find a way forward.

Jackie said: “This is just the latest in a long line of daft decisions that have been taken by the new SNP administration in West Dunbartonshire Council. Not content with having cut trade union facility time, they are now refusing to allow proper scrutiny of their decisions by refusing to allow the press, public or staff in to the Council meeting to hear the debate. 

“How can the SNP claim to be open and transparent when they use tactics like this to stifle debate.  The First Minister was clear that she did not support the SNP council’s decision to cut trade union facility time when I raised this in the Scottish Parliament. It is surely time for the SNP Leader to reverse this decision and not hide behind closed doors.”

Leave a Reply