Thursday, June 26th, 2014
The American politician, Charles Erwin Wilson, is popularly credited with saying that what is good for General Motors is good for the USA.
That supposed umbilical link between the fortunes of a private commercial company and those of a state or city remains seductive today. Until recently it was commonplace to state that the apparent unending growth of RBS was naturally good for Scotland.
The ongoing troubles of RBS should be a warning. But it seems that, in other cases, critical faculties remain sluggish. Take for example, Edinburgh Airport, whose energetic and articulate chief executive, Gordon Dewar, spoke at the City Council’s Economy Committee this week.
Edinburgh Airport is a thriving commercial business – volumes are up on every count, new routes are being developed, more investment in facilities is planned. Mr Dewar had the good grace to acknowledge the challenges that airports pose to carbon emissions but, sadly, I am not sure his shareholders will be worrying too much about that.
And so each new press release about new routes and higher numbers is greeted as unambiguously good by press and politicians. What is good for Edinburgh Airport is good for the city and the city region, it seems. As I argued this week, however, such a one-dimensional narrative does a disservice to a more discerning debate. What is the actual net economic impact of the airport? Who gains? What kind of business airport business generates what kind of economic impact and what policies does the city pursue to maximise benefits? Indeed, what is the optimal size of the airport?
There’s a world of economic difference between domestic flights (and 45% of Edinburgh Airport business is domestic, much of which could be handled by train) which result in boozy weekends causing mayhem in “party flats” and long term inward investment which enhances skills and jobs.
Now, I’ll not pretend that we got into all of those questions at the committee. But I hope that we started to look at both sides of the equation. For example, we know, from official air passenger data, that Scotland as a whole runs a passenger value deficit of almost £1 billion each year – in other words the total spending by people leaving Scotland on flights exceeds that of in-bound passengers by £900 million. That is an economic cost, not a benefit, yet how often do you see that statistic cited? We don’t have those data for Edinburgh alone but I hope that an economic impact study being commissioned this year will examine that local dimension more fully.
Edinburgh airport’s footfall (or “wingfall”?) is 60% tourist and 40% business, and the same net effect might be imagined for business decisions. Academic studies have suggested that flight connectivity is by no means the most important factor in locating a business (quality and skills of employees typically comes top) but, of course, it must play a part. But for every business which decides it can invest “in”, it is equally possible that businesses can use connectivity to exit and run a business more remotely. After all, it must be more tempting to shift production to a country which does not bother so much about pesky stuff like a minimum wage or working conditions, if there is a flight door to door. Equally, how about the capital exits from those wealthy enough to run second homes in France or Spain and lubricated by cheap flights?
Let’s keep perspective. Edinburgh thrives on being an international city. We benefit from being a city which is open to the skills and insights of people from around the globe. Equally, our citizens are enriched by being able to experience at first hand other cultures (and climates). I’ve not been at the airport, personally, for quite a while but I’d include myself in that latter category (at least by the time my kids nag me about being able to go abroad for a holiday at last – apparently, over the sea to Arran does not count).
But, as Mr Dewar recognised, there is no hiding place from the cold arithmetic of carbon reduction. Technology may improve but volume needs to be managed as well. And, maybe just maybe, the depth of the experience offered by international travel would be enhanced by being it being a bit less frequent and a bit more special.
So, given that environmental imperative, it is important that we also get to an economic debate which sees air travel in a rounded way and acknowledges that the sky will not fall in on the city economy in a lower-carbon future.
I’m looking forward to that evolving discussion.
Friday, June 6th, 2014
Does Scotland’s media serve it’s democracy, asks Scottish Greens member Dominic Hinde.
The recent European elections were a tough time for Greens. Despite beating the Lib Dems into last place around the country, people who vote Green or campaign for either of the UK Green parties feel hard done by because both before and after the election the media refused to give Green politics coverage. (more…)
Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014
This post first appeared on Bella Caledonia.
I’m writing to say thank you to the 108,305 who voted Green last Thursday. Thank you so much for your warm welcome around the country, for your kind words throughout and after the campaign, for the political discussions you have had with friends and family. Thank you for voting with hope and ambition, for a Scotland that provides for the many not just the rich, welcomes new Scots from around the world, and stands for peace.
Thanks especially to the many volunteers who gave up their time, energy, and in some cases sleep for the campaign. Your work delivered the Greens’ biggest ever share of the vote across Scotland, and (if I can be selfish for a moment) made me feel overwhelmingly supported and proud, and hopeful for the future.
By voting Green in such numbers you have shown that there is a great and rapidly growing demand for a Green future. We’ve proved that more and more Scots want a nation that beats back poverty and inequality, that reclaims power from big business and returns it to the people, and in which our own generation and those to come can expect happy, secure and creative lives. But more than that: despite politicians’ insistence that ‘there is no alternative’, and the never-ending counsel of despair from the media, we’ve proved that we still believe that nation can be made real.
We can’t escape the grimmer news that this election returned a UKIP MEP, the first election victory in Scotland, at any level, for the far-right party. The vision of UKIP and their fellow travellers is the polar opposite of ours, a vision of fear, hatred and greed.
To drive UKIP from Scotland, we have to take them head-on. The pandering and cowardice of the big UK parties, first to the BNP and now to UKIP, is what got us in this position in the first place. We must not apologise for defending freedom of movement or the right to refuge; we will not join the reality TV assault on the casualties of inequality and poverty. We must defy, loudly and often, UKIP’s attempt to blame the victims.
But there is blame to be carried. It’s just in the wrong place. People are angry about the way in which our common wealth is withheld from them, and scared about a future they have been told is nothing but austerity and decline. UKIP’s politics of nihilism and division is sown in that soil, and its job there is to ensure that we never point the finger at those who are really to blame: the same people who fund UKIP handsomely to do that job.
While wages have stood still and bills have risen over the past 6 years, Britain’s wealthiest 1000 people have seen their fortune rise by £100bn during ‘austerity’. Cuts to the top rate of tax and to corporation tax, cut-price privatisation giveaways, and the ‘help to buy’ scheme have all added to the wealth of the already rich. We must make sure that people know this is where their money has gone. The crisis is due to the rich, the owners of of our economy; not the low paid, the unemployed, or the immigrant.
This is not a message we can just rely on the media to communicate. Almost all of the big papers are owned by the same moneyed interests who are leading the victimisation of the vulnerable. And in any case, a message of equality and democracy is ill-suited to being preached from a high media pulpit. Instead we need to build a mass movement, communicating that message one to another. In workplaces, around kitchen tables, at pubs throughout the country – that’s where we’ll make the case for redistribution of wealth, for a safe and healthy environment, and for the right of people to live where they wish.
I think we can see the beginnings of that movement in the Radical Independence Campaign, and we can find many of the ideas we need to respond to the immediate crisis in the Common Weal. The Greens can add a long-term vision that goes beyond what politicians from the establishment parties are comfortable with right now, pushing them forward. And Greens can provide the opportunity to support those ideas at the ballot box, form oppositions that challenge governments to meet our hopes and ambitions every day, and, where given the opportunity, put these ideas into practice directly.
To do that we need always to be unapologetic about what we stand for. Managerial politicians can slink into office without anyone really noticing, tinker with a few details while they’re there, and retire into obscurity. But radical democratic change needs people who will fight for their ideals and values. We can’t expect people to rally to a banner that has never been raised.
The independence referendum is our first opportunity to proclaim the Scotland we want. If we are bold in this campaign, and after the victory as negotiations begin and a constitution is drafted, we have the opportunity for a country shaped by and for the people. If we mumble, ashamed of dreams we have been told we don’t deserve, it will be shaped by the officials and the lobbyists.
As well as playing an active part in Yes Scotland, Radical Independence, National Collective, Women for Independence and the other parts of the diverse Yes community, Greens will be running our own Green Yes campaign that will be a standard-bearer for that distinct, progressive vision. The SNP’s timid approach of trying to sneak out of the union without alarming corporate bosses, NATO strategists or the Royal Family is not for us.
We are going to win the referendum. But even if the vote is lost, the genie of Scotland’s radical ambition that the referendum has released will not be put back in its bottle. Win or lose, the referendum is just the start of the fight for the Scotland we deserve.
Again, thank you. You’ve done so much, but now I have to ask you to do a little more. I believe another Scotland is possible and I think you do too, so please join the Scottish Greens and help us make it a reality.
We are living in the early days of a better nation, so let’s get to work.
Tuesday, May 27th, 2014
Co-chair of the Green European campaign, Gavin Corbett, offers his final thoughts on the 2014 elections.
Election campaigns are clear cut, in lots of ways. You win or you don’t. In 2014 I believed we had a good chance of electing the first Scottish Green MEP. In the end we fell a little short, despite posting our best-ever result – our first time over 8% – and beating the Lib Dems for the first time.
A result at that level would see 9 Green MSPs elected in 2016 and dozens of Green councillors in 2017 – on both occasions when the relevance of UKIP to specifically Scottish elections is much diminished, indeed barely registered.
In Edinburgh, the party scored over 16% and there were other highs in Stirling, Shetland, Orkney and Glasgow. In Glasgow Kelvin the party was neck and neck with Labour and SNP on 26% and in Edinburgh East on 21%. In England, our MEP numbers rose for the first time since the European breakthrough in 1999, with the election of Molly Scott-Cato in SW England.
Thousands of people voted Green for the first time, drawn by the message of hope not hate and by a positive campaign: of a welcoming Scotland; pro-public services; and pro-peace, sitting alongside the trust they place in us on issues like climate change and radical democracy. As Scotland’s leading political commentator, Iain McWhirter, said: “The Greens put up a hell of a fight, using social media to great advantage and were the only people who tried to make a constructive case for a reformed Europe.”
So, to the 108,000 who voted Green in Scotland: thanks!
But, of course, I am disappointed. It is well within our capability to get the 10.5% we would have needed to get that sixth MEP seat, even on a budget of £30,000 (compared to UKIP’s millions). My councillor colleague Maggie Chapman would have made an excellent, reforming, challenging MEP and Scotland would have been spared the embarrassment of UKIP’s David Coburn who is already making a mockery of the responsibility which has been placed on him.
So, we have work to do. Work to ensure that the many new members who have joined us in recent weeks quickly find a way they can help build support. Work to build our local branches so that all areas can match the kind of results which the hotspots mentioned above posted. Work to communicate to those looking for positive political vision that the Greens are their natural home.
And no time to lose. Usually, after an election, there is a pause. But with the path to the referendum on 18 September now clear ahead, it is all about getting over our exciting and forward-looking Green Yes vision. Let’s get our sleeves rolled up.
Personally, I cannot wait.
Gavin Corbett is a Green councillor in Edinburgh
Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
Tobacco companies could sue governments for losses caused by a law that stops children taking up smoking. Government could be prevented from taking Royal Mail into public ownership again. Keeping East Coast railways in public hands would become illegal. All of things are will become possible if the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaty passes.
Currently being discussed by the European Union, the treaty would substantially increase the protection enjoyed by corporations from regulation, taxation and the public interest. It would be a charter to profit at the cost of all of us.
Of all the major political parties, only Greens have been campaigning against these powers being handed to corporations. The Westminster parties are caught in a bind on this – they’ve long since been bought by those corporations that will benefit from this and their interests. From direct political donations to the currying favour with the corporate press, these political parties are totally in hock to the corporate pound.
A political class that is paid for by corporations will, of course, act for corporations. That’s why they were so slow to crack down on big tobacco. That’s why they are all in favour of privatisation and tax cuts for the rich. That’s why our democracy has been hollowed out. It’s why government doesn’t act for us.
For too long our politicians have flogged public assets like water and electricity and destroyed our public services. This treaty will allow a substantial acceleration in the plunder of our shared wealth.
So it’s something we must oppose. But while stopping the treaty is a daunting prospect it is a campaign we can win.
Given the huge powers that corporations stand to gain from this treaty it is only the latest occasion on which a similar proposal has been put forward. On each occasion it has been defeated by doughty campaigning.
In fact it was a previous proposal to strip government of its power to regulate business, stop workers being exploited and frankly, to govern that sparked my interest in politics. In the late 1990s the Multilateral Agreement on Investment contained many of the proposal in TTIP. We defeated this Agreement by campaigning to elected politicians. We voted for politicians who opposed it. And we worked hard to make sure everyone was aware of the potential impact of the Agreement.
This time we can do the same. Freeing ourselves from the corporate-dominated Westminster political elite will make this all the more possible. And having a Scottish seat at the table will allow us to have more of a voice. Only independence allows us to make this case at the top table.
The TTIP would destroy any chance for us to give people more control over their lives. It would destroy democracy and it would create a corporate dystopia. The criminal loss of life caused by the tobacco industry and asbestos will pale in comparison with the loss of life caused by corporations set free from the rule of law.
We must raise this issue as part of the referendum debate with our already elected representatives. We need to talk about it to our friends and colleagues. We need to get on the streets to oppose it. I will ensure that this issue is at the heart of campaigning, and I will do all I can to stop it.
Wednesday, May 7th, 2014
People who have been at the many events at which I have spoken in this campaign will have picked up, if they have a fine-tuned ear, that I was not born in Scotland. I’m originally from southern Africa, where my early attitudes, politics and instincts for justice were forged in the great struggles of that part of the continent these last 50 years.
I came to Scotland in 1998 and have chosen to make this my home ever since. For the last seven years I have represented the people of Leith here in Edinburgh as local Green councillor and I’ve worked in the universities of our capital city where I see daily the enormous benefit to our economy, society and culture, of institutions which welcome staff and students from across the planet.
So when I say that I passionately believe that the movement of people between countries is good for our society and economy, you better believe that I mean it. As Scotland’s Green MEP I would stand up for a Scotland which welcomes people, and challenge those who peddle damaging anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Scotland also needs a voice in Europe to say no to the Cold War relic that is NATO, and no to illegal wars and military aggression. I will be that voice.
And we need a campaigner who comes with a track record of fighting to keep public services in public hands. As someone who battled, in the capital city, to prevent care services for vulnerable people being privatised, I have that track record.
So the Green manifesto sets out a vision for a revitalised Scotland in a reformed and reforming European Union.
A Europe where Scotland leads by example in rejecting weapons of mass destruction and outdated military alliances in favour of leadership in peace-keeping and peace-making.
A welcoming Scotland where the free movement of people is celebrated as an asset to our economy and enriching for our culture.
A nuclear-free Europe which harnesses the complementary renewable energies of the continent: the wind and tides of the north and the sun in the south.
A Europe where public investment is seen as a force for good, both in our own communities and globally; where the priority is to tackle corporate tax avoidance and evasion, not punishing the poor for a crisis they did not create.
A Scotland where core public services – from the post we receive to the railways on which we travel – lie in public hands.
A co-operative Europe where shared protection for land, seas and animals leads to higher standards and improved conditions; and where there’s action, not words, on climate change.
An exemplar Europe which exercises its diplomatic and trade muscle, not on behalf of corporations, but in support of human rights, indigenous people, impoverished nations and expanding the reach of equalities protections.
A Europe where protection of workers’ rights and pensions is seen as the mainstay of a thriving economy.
A more democratic Europe, driven by elected institutions and reasserting the principle of handing power to the most local level.
It builds on a strong track record of Green MEPs in Europe, stretching back to the early 1980s and, in the UK, to the first election of Green MEPs in 1999.
Those MEPs have pioneered limits on bankers’ bonuses, championed action on climate change, stood up for rights of minority groups – and acted as a force for progress.
It’s time Scotland had its own Green MEP: to stand up for Scotland’s interests in an increasingly interconnected world.
Our manifesto sets out the priorities which I, as that Scottish Green MEP, will follow.
Friday, May 2nd, 2014
This week the council was asked to approve an £850 million funding package for the improvement of the St James Centre shopping mall in the east of the city centre. Green Councillor GAVIN CORBETT argues that the decision was rushed and ill-evidenced.
You’d be hard pushed to find anyone with any love for the current St James Centre. It is a very obvious symbol of past weaknesses in planning and development.
That is why today I joined other councillors in welcoming proposals to bring its redevelopment to fruition. As a city we do need to be mindful of the lessons of the last decade; of the fragility of an economic base built simply on consumer spending. If the revamped St James area can lead to something different then so much the better.
I also welcome the other benefits of redevelopment: new jobs, including targeted employment on disadvantaged citizens; a new energy centre; and provision for disabled visitors.
So yes, the St James area needs utterly revamped. Yes, it is right that the maximum public benefit should be secured from that process.
That is not the issue. The issue is proper scrutiny of the case for the public purse providing £61 million for this commercial development, when the proposal is handed with two days notice as a fait accompli.
And that is in the context of the project generating a developer profit of around £130 million.
To be clear: £130 million is what is described in the council report as “normal profit”. A profit above that level is described as “super profit” and is shared between public and private partners. But that first “normal profit” of around £130 million goes only to the commercial developer and its private investors.
I’d have thought that it might be possible to pay for at least some of the £61 million of infrastructure out of that £130 million profit, much as we routinely expect many developments to do through section 75 planning agreements.
That would still leave a profit of almost £70 million. That seems like a lot to me. But, I am told, financiers would not get out of bed for a mere £70 million profit.
Is that correct? Are we happy with that assertion? That is why we need proper scrutiny of the public money going into this scheme, much more than 2 days allows.
We are told that the subsidy of £61 million will pay for itself through uplift in business rates. All well and good. If the centre prospers and if new shops and hotels are genuinely additional – rather than displacing retail and beds elsewhere in the city.
But it begs a bigger question of what business rates are for. Can we only justify higher business rates yields on the basis of immediate infrastructure on the site on which the development is built? What about the schools and colleges which educate the workers who work in those companies, and the roads and railways which transport the goods which are sold in the premises? They are also paid for business rates and those wider benefits need equally to be funded by business rates uplift.
This is a massive development which begs absolutely critical questions about the appropriate level of public subsidy for commercial developments. I cannot believe that it is so fragile that it would be jeopardised by asking for a period of 4 weeks for proper scrutiny. That would still allow the project to be signed off in May, which is what the project timeline indicates.
The St James redevelopment is much-needed; but simply to wave this proposal through at a nod would be a dereliction of the duty we owe to all such projects to be properly assessed and understood.
This post first appeared on the Edinburgh Reporter website.
Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014
A poll in this week’s Scotland on Sunday suggests that English born Scots currently intend to vote 2:1 against independence.
I was born in England and I will once again be supporting England in this summer’s World Cup finals. Having moved to Scotland 38 years ago, I think of myself as neither English nor Scottish, defaulting to ‘British’ when asked my nationality.
But independence is not about flags, labels or the past. It’s about the future of the country I call home and below is a transcript of a speech I gave at a recent public meeting organised by Yes Midlothian spelling out why I am passionate about independence and will be voting Yes on September 18th.
It is now less than six months to the referendum. Looking back to six months ago, I was to say the least, lukewarm towards Independence.
Yes, I felt it would put Scotland in a place it belonged and one day it would happen anyway – it just seemed to be the direction we were heading.
I was never in doubt that we could manage economically and surviving as an independent nation was never an issue for me. Now that even David Cameron has said the same, it is no longer an issue for anyone.
Six months ago, while I supported Independence, I was not passionate about it, simply because I had other priorities.
However, it was only when listening to Robin McAlpine, who gave a presentation to the Scottish Greens’ conference in October, that I began to realise that the changes I want to see can only happen in an independent Scotland.
That’s not to say they definitely will happen but that as things stand, they definitely won’t as part of the UK.
So what priorities do the Greens have?
We live in a world with finite resources. If humanity is to survive, we need to manage those resources better.
The pie isn’t getting any bigger and if anything it will need to get smaller if catastrophic destruction of the planet is to be avoided.
Importantly, we need to look at how we share out what we already have rather than relying on a fragile model of exploitation of resources and people to fuel a wasteful and consumer obsessed world.
And this can only be achieved by reducing inequality.
Reducing inequality also brings many other benefits.
Anyone who has read ‘The Spirit Level’ by Wilkinson and Pickett, will be convinced that reducing inequality is also the key to reducing many of the social problems we face – their study looked at
Level of Trust
Mental Illness including drug & alcohol addiction
Life expectancy & infant mortality
Children’s educational performance
And social mobility
They looked at all of these across over 20 countries and across each of the states in the US (to show it’s inequality, not the wealth of a country which is the problem). In all cases there was a close co-relation between all of these problems and inequality. Reduce inequality and each of these problems diminishes.
We’ve heard a lot about the Nordic countries in the independence debate and how countries like Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland have lower levels of inequality, and as the Spirit Level shows, these countries display lower levels of social problems like those I’ve described.
That surely must be what we aspire to.
The UK is the fourth most unequal country in the world.
The top fifth of people in the UK earn around 14 times that of the bottom fifth.
Where the five richest families are now wealthier than the bottom 20% combined.
London is the most unequal city in the developed world.
So I ask myself, is a more equal society more likely in an independent Scotland or is it more likely to come from Westminster?
In the UK, inequality has steadily risen over the last few decades – even under Labour governments.
Witness the rise of the food bank.
Westminster MPs voted last month to cap the total Welfare bill in a race to prove to likely Tory or UKIP voters that their party will continue to bring down the deficit by austerity.
At Westminster, the debate on taxation revolves around whether the richest pay 45 or 50 pence in the pound on their income. Commitments on the Minimum Wage revolve around whether or not it should be increased in line with inflation.
The Bedroom Tax, like the Poll Tax before it, was imposed by a Westminster government against the will of the vast majority of Scots.
Surely we can do better than this.
In Scotland, the emphasis is different.
Here, we were the first to oppose the Poll Tax. We seek to extend the Living Wage and abolish the Bedroom Tax.
We introduced the Right to Roam, we’re giving more rights to communities in land reform and we embraced proportional representation for both our parliament and local councils.
Yes, the emphasis is different here.
Voters and politicians in many political parties in Scotland share my desire to reduce inequality.
Independence would give us the chance to work together to do that.
The most exciting change politically is that the Labour Party would be re-invigorated and could once again become the force for change it once was.
No longer shackled to following the opinion polls of Middle England, it would be freed to work with all of us in this country who want to see the benefits of a more equal society.
But it’s more than a more equal society that we could work together for.
We’ve heard of Devo Max, Devo Plus, Devo Nano. Whatever powers are promised, they will not enable us to do other things that I, and I believe, the majority of Scots want to see.
It would not remove the obscenity of nuclear weapons from our shores.
While we can regulate for home insulation but we cannot regulate our energy companies.
We would have greater control over the levers of our economy.
But we are told that if we use Sterling, we might not have any control over monetary policy.
Ten years ago, the debate in Scotland was that interest rates were too high and were hurting the Scottish economy. The Bank of England told us they had to be high to dampen the housing boom in the south east of England.
And we are told that Scotland is too small to bail out failing banks.
Is Scotland too small, or the banks too big?
If we fix the bank problem, then the country problem goes away.
We can regulate rail fares, but cannot bring the railways back into public ownership where they belong.
Our cherished postal service has just been sold off cheaply to the delight of City of London investors.
I, and I believe most of Scotland, want it back.
We have no written constitution and an unelected House of Lords
I would like a head of state not chosen by God, but elected by the people.
Of the four elections we vote in, only one is not by a fairer proportional system – yes, the one to Westminster.
Then we’re told that an independent Scotland’s status would be diminished on the world stage.
Conservative minister Kenneth Clark recently told the Scottish Tory conference that an independent Scotland would have the same influence as Malta.
Malta, with a population less than Edinburgh, has five Members of the European Parliament.
As part of the UK, Scotland currently has six.
Finland, Denmark and Slovakia, on the other hand, with populations roughly the same as Scotland, each have thirteen.
Six months ago I was lukewarm about Scottish independence because I didn’t see it as a priority. Now I am passionate about Scottish independence because all my priorities depend on it.
Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
After a tragedy such as the death of Keane Wallis-Bennett, the immediate and only thoughts are with the family and friends of Keane.
Even with a daughter of my own of the same age, also in S1 at a neighbouring school, I can only glimpse the deep grief and pain everyone will be feeling.
As initial numbness gives way to understandable anger, all councillors have a duty to do everything we can to prevent such a tragedy happening ever again.
Exactly what went wrong in Liberton High School, we will know in due course. But, more generally, it has been clear for some time that there is a long-term problem of investment in and repair of school buildings.
For decades the school estate in Edinburgh has been neglected, so the decision to commission surveys for the whole school estate was both brave and necessary.
The staff who took that necessary step should be thanked for facing up to that long-term neglect and laying out the simple facts for all to see.
The level of investment needed is stark: £90.6 million. The repairs and maintenance bill is £29.1m and improvements are costed at £61.5m.
However, this year’s budget was agreed with only half of the funding for improvements identified over the next five years. Even more glaringly, the council’s budget has only £4.2m per year for maintenance and planned work across the entire council estate, while £8m is needed just for schools and related buildings for each of the next two years, as part of that £29.1m total bill.
So the current annual budget of £4.2m is only half of what is needed for schools and children’s centres, never mind libraries, depots and other public buildings.
This is why officers have warned that the current repairs budget is so under-funded that it ‘will impact little on required works’.
The council also needs to adopt planned preventative maintenance programmes for schools. As anyone who has to maintain a home knows, the rapid downwards spiral that results from neglect is a false economy. We have been warned.
Back in March, as a member of the council’s audit committee, I asked for school repairs and conditions to be closely examined by the committee and will press for this to happen as soon as possible. That should help secure consensus about what needs to happen.
So, crucially, how much do we need? And how do we get it?
An additional £10.5m a year would allow the repairs backlog to be addressed in full and fund the additional borrowing needed to improve schools.
£10.5m is £1 a week extra on council tax. I propose that the city council goes to the Scottish Government and makes the case for this as a special school repair and improvement levy. £1 a week, earmarked only for schools, and sitting outside the terms of the council tax freeze.
£1 a week: surely a small price for a well maintained school estate: no less than Edinburgh needs and future generations deserve.
This post originally appeared on the Edinburgh Greens website.
Thursday, March 27th, 2014
It was no surprise that Midlothian councillors decided this week not to accept officers’ recommendations that Bonnyrigg Leisure Centre be demolished. Given the overwhelming publicity in the media and opposition by MSPs Alison Johnstone and Colin Beattie, to do so would be electoral suicide for councillors voting for it, not to mention the prospect of images of people chained to the building as the bulldozers arrive featuring on national television (a very real possibility, according to my sources). (more…)