I MAKE no apology for returning to the council’s budget challenges again this week ahead of the announcement of the Scottish Government’s draft budget next Thursday.

On the day of my previous column the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond announced his autumn budget.

Over all there was little to cheer about other than some much-needed changes to the Universal Credit system, which has hit many Inverclyde residents hard in the pocket.

Disappointingly the UK Government is continuing with its austerity programme, with minimum additional resources for public services and virtually no provision for a fair increase in public sector pay.

The Scottish Government’s block revenue grant is increasing by a modest £183m or 0.7 per cent in cash terms. After taking account of inflation this represents a real terms cut of £199m or 0.8 per cent.

Mind you, if the Scottish Government was to give Inverclyde an increase of 0.7 per cent I would be delighted.

Councils across Scotland are currently expecting a cut of around three per cent in our grant next year.

That is why we are being forced to consult on a long list of unpopular savings proposals. In the past week I’ve been lobbied on a number of these proposals, including the downgrading of library services in Kilmacolm and a cut to our schools’ music service.

As I’ve said before, no councillor is happy with making such cuts. I am very proud of the investment we’ve made in our public library service in the past 10 years and the quality of our music service. I don’t want to see either service reduced.

That is why next Thursday I will be joining fellow trade unionists and councillors from across Scotland at a rally outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh calling for a fair settlement for local government and a decent pay rise for public sector workers.

Although the Scottish Government may have received a disappointing settlement from Westminster, all is not lost.

Our parliament now has extensive tax powers that can be used to raise significant additional revenue. The time has come for our government to use these powers.

If you cannot attend this rally you can still play your part by lobbying our local constituency MSPs, Derek Mackay and Stuart McMillan.

You can contact them by email at the following addresses: Derek.Mackay.msp@parliament.scot (Kilmacolm and Quarrier’s Village); Stuart.Mcmillan.msp@parliament.scot (the rest of Inverclyde).

As our new Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said last week, austerity is a political choice not an economic one.
With our new powers we can make different choices in Scotland.

We will find out next Thursday what choice Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers make – more cuts to vital public services and jobs or investment in these services and our workforce to help build a better and fairer Scotland.