Welcome to the Public Works blog.

Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk. For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Under Pressure

Today’s report by the Institute of Civil Engineers suggesting the introduction of road tolls to fund repairs highlights the impact of funding cuts and tax freezes on public services. They state that one third of our roads are in an unacceptable condition and that we need to spend about £250 million a year to stop it getting worse.

Yet again we are talking about replacing progressive taxation to pay for services with charges which bear no relation to people’s ability to pay. UNISON and Audit Scotland have already highlighted this growing trend. Meanwhile budget cuts are no longer being able to be met by salami slicing and non replacement of staff. Councils are discussing major cuts to service provision.

Falkirk Council is facing £45m cuts over three years, Fife £77m. Glasgow is facing a 7% budget cut: 3000 jobs are at risk. Edinburgh, with cuts of £126m over four years, is claiming that it may not be able to stick to its no compulsory redundancy agreement.

North Lanarkshire Council is discussing plans to meet a budget hole of £68 million pounds: which will involve the loss of 1100 job. This will have a massive impact on businesses in the area. West Dunbartonshire is discussing cutting winter gritting, doing away with free school milk, ending its elderly respite care and reducing crisis support for teens. Plans to meet the budget cuts also include increasing charges for school dinners and bulk refuse uplifts.

One of the many problems with these plans is that they will actually lead to increased costs in other budgets. Less gritting means more falls so more broken bones and higher costs for the NHS. Less respite care puts more pressure on carers impacting on their own health and ability to provide care leading to need for more expensive acute services for both carers and the people they care for. Reduced support for crisis teens can lead to those young people harming themselves and others which increased need for acute mental health services and increased crime and anti social behaviour, adding costs to the police and prison services. We are supposed to be focusing on preventative spending instead we are just storing up costly problems for the future.

Another example is the impact of cuts in trading standards departments. An article in the Herald shows that councils have lost one in eight of trading standards officers since a 2013 report warned the service was under threat. This means rogue traders are able to exploit shoppers much more easily. This not only impacts on people who buy shoddy or even dangerous goods but seriously impacts on legitimate businesses who lose customers to the cowboys.

Relying on increased charges to increase income is much less fair than using taxation. It could lead to more dumping and therefore increased costs in terms of clearing up the mess and young people eating cheaper less healthy food outwith schools or going without.

No matter what the politicians are saying local government is facing a massive financial black hole.

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