Eighteen months ago, For Argyll published an article, COSLA now facing endgame, recording the weakening of the self-selected body negotiating with the Scottish Government of the day on behalf of all 32 Scottish councils – COSLA, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
Several local authorities had given the required year’s notice that they were ceasing their membership of the body in a current of increasing dissatisfaction with COSLA’s performance.
Only eighteen months ago the political scene in Scotland was very different.
Labour was still considered a force to be reckoned with – although its performance in the 2011 Scottish Election showed that the SNP had a strengthening grip of the carpet under its feet.
COSLA has always been a Labour fiefdom and so was endemically disposed to be difficult with the SNP Scottish Government – so the resignations from its membership brought a warm glow to the SNP, especially since many of the secessionists were Labour councils.
These included the biggest powergame council in the country – Glasgow, with a pretty mighty set of peers forming a Clyde alliance of separatists; and with the northern powerhouse of Aberdeen an independent go-it-aloner.
During the furious and determined response of local authorities across Scotland to Finance Secretary John Swinney’s 3.5% average cut to their 2016-17 budgets, the changed position of the SNP to COSLA became laughably clear. Susan Aitken, leader of the SNP group at Glasgow City Council, tried to convoince the chamber that if only the council were still a member of COSLA, it would all be so much better.
The SNP remains determined to seduce to itself the Labour party’s traditional supporting bodies, like the Trades Unions and like COSLA, as part of its determined campaign to leave Labour with no motive power and a much reduced vote.
Labour Leader of Glasgow City Council, Frank McAveety [one of Labour’s prominent MSPs taken out by the SNP in 2011], swiftly put her down in a letter to The Herald on Wednesday 16th December, with logic and slam-dunked hard facts very much on his side.
McAveety nailed the partisan local authority allocations agreed between the Scottish Government and COSLA in the standout example of the funding allowed for Kinship Care.
This is the funding of the social reality that the children of unable parents – often drug addicts – are often routinely brought up by kin usually grandparents. This informal traditional accepting of familial responsibility in care for children is, of course, much more supportive of such children by keeping them within their own family circles, with their belonging assured.
Glasgow, with its huge urban population and the highest proportion of Kinship Carers in Scotland – 32% of the Scottish total – was awarded only 15% of the budget. McAveety pointed to the comparative treatment of SNP-led Angus Council, where a child in kinship cafe is attended by an allowance of £2786; whee a child in the same kinship care in Glasgow carries an allowance of £573.
The point is that the four local authorities that left COSLA to form the Scottish Local Government Partnership are major league councils – Glasgow City Council, Aberdeen City Council, Renfrewshire Council, South Lanarkshire Council – with the clout they need to negotiate separately – or not negotiate at all.
There is a voiced threat that some councils will simply defy Mr Swinney, walk away from the SNP Government’s Council Tax Freeze deal – and raise their own Council Tax rates.
Replacing their shares of the Scottish Government’s £70 Million deal would mean a 3.5% local rise; after that the cost of the retention of services to be cut under that £70 Million deal could take a local rise as high as 10%.
Those angry at the depth of the cuts point to the loss of what COSLA estimates will be the loss of 15,000 local authority jobs across Scotland, saying that this adds up to the jobs lost in ’50 Tata Steel’s’ – referring to the two steel plants shut down in Scotland earlier this year, with the loss of 270 jobs. This was enough to send the Scottish Government into its long-grass of choice – establishing the ubiquitous ‘Task Force’ to play for time in inevitable failure.
Its own causing of the loss of potentially 15,000 jobs triggers no Task Force, of course – and in fact COSLA’s projected 15,000 lost jobs amounts to over 55 Tata Steels.
Once the SNP’s certain sweeping victory in the 2016 Scottish Election is over, Council’s are clearly facing a very different local authority funding regime in the next year or so, with the likely introduction of some sort of local income tax and possibly losing major responsibilities to centralised services.
Will this strengthen the angry Councils’ will to take on the Scottish Government this stage?
COSLA President David O’Neill, has invited the four separatists to rejoin COSLA but their is bad blood there, even though they are Labour-led Councils who left a Labour dominated organisation and it is in Labour’s interests to see a reinvigorated and effective COSLA speaking for all of the 32 Scottish local authorities.
The SNP, already visibly planning a coup at the Scottish Local Authority Elections in 2017, has a delicate tightrope to walk in this matter.
It will not want a galvanised and unified COSLA in the ranks in its mooted local government reorganisation planning; nor will it want a declaration of war at this stage – before the uber-protected SNP vote in the Scottish Election next May.
Labour too has a nuanced game to play. If its members in the breakaway Scottish Local Government Partnership do defy the currently weakened Finance Secretary [with his non-funding of the Bridge of Sighs a settled burr under the saddle of his party], they also would worry about negative responses at the polls in May with residents of their areas paying a higher council tax.
This looks like gameplaying on the part of the councils, seeing if the recently devaluation of John Swinney might open some negotiating space.
We note that several other councils – Highland, Moray, Fife, Inverclyde, Eilean Siar – are sucking their teeth and saying that they have ruled nothing out.
SNP councils are staying quiet and obediently taking the hit for their areas.