Speech from Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities
Monica Lennon MSP to Scottish Labour Conference
Dundee, Friday 9 March 2018
Conference, it’s a privilege to be closing this afternoon’s debate on our vision for public services.
I was honoured when Richard Leonard asked me to take on the role of Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, following his leadership victory.
We in the Scottish Labour Party, are proud of communities across Scotland.
We appreciate the neighbours who look out for each other,
the volunteers who are the beating heart of our communities
and our fellow citizens who dedicate themselves to public service.
Publicly provided public services and strong local government are essential for community cohesion and our shared prosperity.
That’s why, alongside my Shadow Cabinet colleagues, I have been supporting Richard Leonard in making the case for more investment in our public services at every opportunity.
And conference, we can’t repeat that enough.
We have just come through another budget process in the Scottish Parliament, where the SNP’s utter complacency and mismanagement of our economy and public services has been laid bare.
Faced with the opportunity to be bold, this SNP Government have yet again revealed their true, timid colours.
Unwilling to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to deliver better services for the people of Scotland, after 10 years in power, it’s clear that the SNP are out of ideas:
all too willing to manage decline and pass on Tory austerity to the most vulnerable people in our society.
More than a decade of SNP mismanagement of our public services has left local government in Scotland absolutely decimated.
28,000 jobs have been axed from local authorities since 2010 – accounting for 9 out of every 10 austerity job losses in Scotland.
If these jobs were being lost due to a factory closing down or a local business going into administration, there would be a national outcry – and rightly so.
Yet where are the SNP’s taskforces and social media outrage for the destruction of council workers jobs?
Instead we get only radio silence from the SNP establishment in Edinburgh and a meaningless insistence from Derek MacKay that councils have had ‘a fair deal’.
Inequality is widening and the need to deliver infrastructure and inclusive growth that works for the many should be a national priority.
But this Scottish Government does not respect or understand that local government is the key to strengthening communities and their local economies.
For SNP Ministers, local government is an irritant, a source of blame for their own failings and slowly but surely they have diluted local democracy with one centralising power grab after another.
A fair deal for local government to the SNP apparently means local councils receiving yet more budget cuts worth hundreds of millions of pounds this year.
That’s less money for the vital frontline services we all rely on.
Cuts to our councils is not an abstract concept – it has a direct impact on the lives of thousands of people across the country.
Cuts to councils means less money for gritting the roads in bad weather;
longer waiting times for our older people in hospital who are waiting for that vital social care package;
bigger class sizes in our schools;
and cut backs in other vital services like community learning and library services that can so enrich local communities.
But year after year, the SNP have continued cutting millions from our local services, refusing to use to the powers of the Parliament to protect the most vulnerable.
Conference, that’s why Scottish Labour’s plan for our public services would make different choices.
By asking the very richest in our society to pay a bit more, our near £1 billion stimulus package for lifelines services would have delivered an additional £545 million package for local government, including a fully funded pay rise for our public sector workers.
That’s why we’ve also outlined plans for a Tourist Tax to re-empower local authorities, giving councillors more control and revenue raising powers that could raise up to £70 million extra a year.
It’s local councillors who understand their local area best, so we would devolve power as close to where its being exercised as possible – not centralise it in Edinburgh.
I’m proud of the many passionate contributions this afternoon’s debate which have highlighted the difficult conditions under which our pressured services continue to operate.
From our classrooms and early learning assistants, to our NHS workers, to our police officers and firefighters: we owe a debt of gratitude to the public servants who continue to deliver service under huge pressure – forced to do more with less resources and at the same time as experiencing a real terms wage cut years after year thanks to the pay freeze.
Conference, the people of Scotland and our precious public services deserve so much more than timid managerialism.
Scotland deserves a bold and radical government, one which will protect the interests of the many by ensuring the privileged few pay their fair share. Only Scottish Labour with Richard Leonard as First Minister, can deliver that real change.