Comment,  Council 2022,  Kirsten Robb,  Local,  News

Can South Lanarkshire Council use resources better?

We sent a letter to the Chief Executive with our thoughts on how the council can improve.

Earlier in the year, South Lanarkshire Council put forward a series of potential cuts to services and asked for comment. At the time the South Lanarkshire Greens wrote a letter to the council making a number of points. Part of the letter is reproduced below, let’s see if any of the points are addressed over the next year…

N.B. The consultation is now closed, though you too can still make suggestions on how the council can save money and do more with their resources if you’ve got any thoughts on the matter.

Excerpt from letter to the Council sent on the 18th March 2021

We understand the impact of local government funding cuts over the last decade and at a local and national level, are committed to ensuring local government is properly empowered, funded and innovates to improve local lives. Whilst Green MSPs have mitigated local council cuts for years to save local services, the cuts cannot go on.

At a senior level there has been a real lack of innovation with South Lanarkshire following or behind the curve of many initiatives or in some cases, going backwards. There are also persistent problems that have not received the focus they should. However, some innovation is happening and this needs to be encouraged in an atmosphere of looking outwards rather than inwards.  

1. Putting the community in community planning – Community planning has been a top down affair in South Lanarkshire. We want to see much more listening at a community level and real partnership working to address local people’s needs, improve services, empower communities and draw in external funding. One recent example where this did most definitely not happen was the City Deal projects – the public was not consulted on what the projects should be so SLC drove forward road expansion projects from the 1970s.

2. Departments working in silos – Too often departments are just focusing on their own areas of work. There needs to be much better focus on ‘place’ and different departments working together with other agencies, groups and local people to improve a place. For example, the PPP schools do not allow informal community access to their high quality football pitches, when it was often the community’s openly accessible greenspaces which these new schools were built on. 

3.  Persistent problems – Two examples of persistent problems are housing and air quality. The housing waiting list is very long and private rents are extortionate, pushing people in to poverty. Whilst there has been a greater focus on building more social housing recently, this will not meet demand and we urge the council to ensure developers live up to building more social housing, that SLC works in partnership to attract more funding for social housing (for example by shifting your final City Deal road project – Stewartfield Way – to building social housing) and to introduce private rent controls in parts of South Lanarkshire. On air quality, some areas of South Lanarkshire have suffered air that is unsafe to breathe for more than a decade – the action plans took years to produce and it is not clear the plans will produce air that is fit to breathe – more radical action is needed. 

 4. Innovation – Income generation: Whilst other authorities are generating income from renewable energy on council land and buildings, South Lanarkshire does not seem to be taking large strides in this area. May we encourage you and your officers to urgently develop plans in this direction. Innovation in service delivery: Libraries, community halls and museums are important parts of the fabric of communities yet South Lanarkshire has closed many down and intend to close more. Instead of innovating, these services have been allowed to stagnate. Whilst some great work has been down at front-line and officer level, SLLC could have been supported to innovate and have a vision at strategic level, using its charitable status and close connections with local communities to better to work in partnership and bring in external funding. Member innovation: Of course for a council to innovate, it is also needs the drive, input and support of elected members. This is where there should be a greater focus on supporting members to look outwards and learn about different approaches in local government and community empowerment.

5. More focus on community and natural assets is needed
: Moving to a focus on ‘place’ and real community planning and empowerment will ensure that regeneration and improvement is built on what local people want, the skills and knowledge they have and the key assets in that place. Too often, top down spatial planning, regeneration initiatives, PFI and City Deal projects take projects developed behind closed doors or by multi-national companies / major supermarkets, leaving little benefits or undermining local people, the local economy and the local / global environment. Meanwhile community assets like libraries, halls and museums are closed at short notice with communities given a tokenistic 3 months and no support to try and save local facilities, when the decisions were already made – this poor process must never be allowed to happen again, particularly seeing the most recent consultation on the future of SLLC. Any changes must be worked out with communities to ensure local places are enhanced not deprived as a result of changes.

In relation to the South Lanarkshire draft budget for the coming fiscal year 2021-2022, we are concerned that it lacks focus on tackling poverty and that SLC’s continued concentration on road building projects, will only drive inequality and lock in high carbon behaviour, increasing climate emissions.
We know that since the consultation process began the Scottish Government budget proposals have been announced in Holyrood with a proposed increase slightly above expectations and that you have instructed Council officers to update the budget plans.  In drawing up the changes may we ask that the perspective change and that the budget is climate proofed and equality assessed. For example, the draft budget proposes stopping school holiday and breakfast clubs and closing five libraries, impacting single parents, the poor and digitally excluded most. It proposes reducing expenditure on free activities like maintenance of green spaces, play parks and paths – all vital opportunities for outdoor recreation that are only being used more at this vital point in recovery from Covid-19. The budget talks about reducing path gritting – an aspect that Edinburgh council was challenged on recently under equality assessment as it discriminates against people walking and cycling over car drivers. And we again ask that you shift the final City Deal road project to another, more useful capital project – social housing, instead.
Finally, we ask that you look at other ways of financing capital projects and saving revenue funds. Have you considered proposals to Strathclyde Pension Fund to fund new social housing projects? And with borrowing costs low just now, can SLC look into buying back the PPP secondary schools to save on the annual fee and give more control back to local communities over their facilities?