Month: March 2018

Council to report on local housing regeneration challenge

10th March 2018

A report has been promised from housing officials on the extent of structural and environmental work required currently on council housing across South Lanarkshire. The promise was made following a demand from Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor at the Council’s recent Executive Committee. Housing officials said it could be a snapshot in time but Councillor Brown said council tenants were entitled to know where they stood, the extent of the problems and how long they might have to wait to fix them.

Robert Brown said:

“I have argued for some time that many of the older council houses across Rutherglen have been left behind, despite paying their rent for many years – and indeed seeing a significant increase in rent this year and next.

In Springhall, there are major environmental problems with back green areas, rubbish collection systems, close mouths, slabbing, bin shelters and lockups. The areas around many houses and tenemental blocks are unattractive and decaying. We have managed to get some money spent each year to regenerate small parts of the estate but it is far too slow and will take the best part of 20 years to complete at this rate.

In other areas like Blairbeth, Spittal, Fernhill and Cathkin – and indeed in similar parts of other wards in Rutherglen and Cambuslang, there are pockets of both tenenental and semi detached housing which still have the original roughcasting which is no longer fit for purpose and looks very grey. In addition, there are structural and roof issues to be tackled.

The promised Report from the Housing Department is a very small step – but at least it should give a clearer idea of the extent of the physical and financial challenge – and give a basis for taking it forward.

I understand the need for new housing – but it should not be at the expense of existing longstanding tenants.”

Rutherglen Labour MP challenged by Liberal Democrats to defy Corbyn and back the Single Market

10th March 2018

Rutherglen & Hamilton West Labour MP Gerard Killen has been challenged by the Liberal Democrats to “back his constituents and his Party members” and pledge to vote to stay in the European Single Market and Customs Union.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said that Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the Scottish Labour Party Conference should be the last straw for anyone who was serious about defending jobs and the economy. It was, he said, a final wake up call for those who had backed Labour at the General Election on the basis that that they were pro-European.

Robert Brown said:

“It is now decision time for Ged Killen and many other Labour MPs like him. It is obvious that he is very concerned about the damaging effects of Brexit, and particularly of leaving the Single Market. Jeremy Corbyn has now ended his sponsored dither and come off the fence on the issue. The only trouble is he has jumped off on the wrong side and landed in the mud!

It is no longer possible for Labour MPs to prevaricate. Either they follow Jeremy Corbyn in rejecting the Single Market and backing the Tory hard Brexit – causing huge damage to British jobs and businesses – or they stand up for their constituents and use their power in Parliament to help stop Theresa May’s shredding of our European partnerships. In this constituency, there is no doubt a big majority of the public wanted and want to stay in the European Union – the same is true for local Labour Party members if their views are the same as a recent national poll of Labour supporters.

Gerard Killen has made much of the implications for the Irish Border. It is surely clear to him that, without continuing membership of both the Single Market and the Customs Union, a new and damaging border across Ireland is inevitable.

Liberal Democrats make these two specific challenges to Ged Killen today. Will he now back the Single Market and give the public the final vote on the Brexit terms? If he will not, he is selling out the many people who thought that voting Labour was a vote against a damaging hard Brexit.”

Council information on missed bin collection needs to be improved

4th March 2018

The recent bad weather has caused problems of all sorts for local residents with schools closed, travel advised against, and supermarkets running out of bread.

One casualty of the bad weather was the bin collections – which in this area means the blue and red bins – which were not able to be collected from Wednesday to Friday last week.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said the information available to residents about this was inadequate. According to the Council website, residents were told to leave their bins out for collection “and we will empty it as soon as we can get back to your area”. However it was clear from early on that the Council would not be able to catch up on the missed collections – and would only be dealing with the scheduled collections for next week ie the green/black general refuse bins.

Robert Brown said:

“There was very clear and up to date information on the website about when schools would be closed or open – but nothing whatever about changed bin collections arrangements. I was told on Thursday that something should be up on the website about this later that day – but, as of Sunday, there was nothing up at all. There was, certainly, a notice on Facebook but not everyone has that and not everyone notices it – the website should be the easiest place to check things out.

This is not just unsatisfactory but also misleading because people thought they were supposed to leave the blue and red bins out. I have had a number of complaints about this. In reality the red bins will be collected on the usual cycle next week (week beginning 12th March) and the blue bins in 3 weeks’ time.

I have nothing but admiration for the road gritting staff and the workforce from Lands Services and Cleansing who helped them on the gritting, but there are clearly lessons to be learnt about getting speedy and accurate information out to the public. The Council has a big IT department which should be capable of dealing with this.

I have asked the Chief Executive to review how information is put out to the public during winter emergencies. ”

Liberal Democrats comment on South Lanarkshire Council Budget; detailed proposals

1st March 2018

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown backed South Lanarkshire Council’s Budget at the Executive Committee and the full Council on Wednesday. He said it provided an opportunity to increase the number of teachers in local schools, help child poverty and support the Voluntary Sector.

Robert Brown said:

“Tackling child poverty, closing the attainment gap and supporting the Voluntary sector are the key priorities in today’s challenging environment.

I have long argued for an increase in the school uniform grant for vulnerable families which has not increased for many years and is inadequate for the purpose – and the automatic entitlement provision is welcome. I also strongly support the proposals on expanding free breakfast clubs, developing holiday lunch clubs and tackling the nonsense of Parent Councils raising money for their schools being charged hefty letting fees for the privilege.”

Teachers and early years/care workers

“An extra 3 million is going into more teachers and support assistants and £4 million into expanding the workforce for early years and social care. This will make a considerable difference to schools, nurseries and elderly care.”

Voluntary sector capacity

“We need to focus more on building capacity in voluntary sector organisations. I know of pensioners’ clubs, sports clubs, Residents groups and others which are literally fading away in front of us. Various organisations like Pilotlight, Knowhow Non Profit and the Big Lottery offer various forms of capacity building support.

I was glad to get support from the Administration to look at this in more detail with a view to making sure that bowling clubs, tennis clubs etc are empowered to grow and make full use of facilities and clubhouses, and that community groups can be supported to grow their capacity, all adding to the ability of local people to make life better in their areas.”

Landemer Grant

“I also clarified that there would be a small increase in grant to Rutherglen Landemer Committee – the first for some years.”

Opposition Parties: Tories

“The Tory budget might be fairly described as a curate’s egg – one or two minor good ideas but mostly rather mean-spirited cuts, costing us £2.5million ongoing because they want to be seen as a low tax Party, regardless of the effects on the future of our citizens. I don’t see the point of the so called free school budgets – the Pupil Equity Fund, modelled on the Liberal Democrat pupil premium (introduced by the UK Coalition) already provides far more funding at school level than the rather tokenistic amounts that would come from this. The need is for more teachers and more ASN support to help bring our schools up – something that Liberal Democrats have campaigned for throughout the Scottish budget process and indeed long before.”

Labour

“Labour looked as if they were casting around for something to criticise – there was no real strategy. The previous Labour administration did well to allocate a committed investment over a period to improving the roads and pavements. Clearly there is more to be done but you just need to cross the border into East Renfrewshire, Glasgow or East Dunbartonshire to see what would have happened without this. That strategy comes to an end next year and should be reassessed by the Resource Committee over the next few months. The current Budget maintains the spend for this year and put more money into the consequences of the bad winter.”

Council Budget gives opportunity to offset problems caused by SNP Government – Liberal Democrats

1st March 2018

The ending of the Council tax freeze and long overdue use of income tax powers by the Scottish Parliament gave greater – and welcome – flexibility to South Lanarkshire Council for this year’s Budget than originally anticipated, according to the Liberal Democrats. Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown warned however that the Budget still involved a cut in grant from the SNP Government in Edinburgh and that much of the extra flexibility on spending was having to offset things like cuts in teacher numbers or inadequate support for childcare and older people care since the SNP came to power in 2007.

Robert Brown said:

“This has been a more difficult budget than usual because of the shifting nature of the figures coming down from the Scottish Government and the lateness of the eventual decisions.

Nationally, the overall position is a further cut in Scottish Government grant. Over recent years, the SNP Government has both reduced local government’s share of the pot and increased the burdens on the Council. The Audit Commission has expressed quite stringent criticisms of the way the SNP Government has prepared and funded the expansion of childcare, and the Council’s Chief Executive warned about the shortfall in the funding from Edinburgh.

This Council Budget focuses on tackling child poverty and focusing on teachers and ASN support – but much of this is just redressing part of the cuts we have suffered in education since the SNP came to power in 2007 and which saw the loss of 4,000 teachers and much of the ASN support they inherited from the Liberal Democrats and Labour in Government in Scotland.

Councils are less and less in charge of its own affairs, as police and fire centralisation continues to spill out problems, and educational reform turns out to mean more powers for the SNP Education Secretary and his officials and more bureaucracy for schools and Councils. It is time that Councils at least received the product of the Business Rates raised in their areas as part of their core income.”

Robert Brown calls for major commemoration of the Centenary of the Armistice

1st March 2018

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown used the debate on the Budget at South Lanarkshire Council to call for a major effort to commemorate the Armistice on 11th November 1918 that ended the First World War – known then as the “Great War”.

The Council agreed a sum of £100,000 to spend on enhancing the various War Memorials throughout South Lanarkshire – not least those in Rutherglen and Cambuslang – including stonemasonry, landscaping, and one off repairs. In addition the Chief Executive said that funding would be available to support initiatives in schools and local communities on the Great War theme.

Robert Brown told the Council’s Executive Committee:

“I want to raise the issue of this year’s centenary of the Armistice which ended the First World War on 11th November 1918. I know we have a capital proposal of £100,000 for renovation of war memorials which I strongly support but I think we should also be giving active and substantial support to commemoration of 1918 in schools, libraries, town halls, heritage organisations and so forth. It is a major opportunity not just to remember the bravery of the millions of men who lost their lives or the families which were damaged by the war, but also to celebrate our local communities across South Lanarkshire, the personal and family links to the 1914-18 conflict, and indeed the changes which the war wrought. In Rutherglen’s sister town of Rutherglen, Australia, they lost many men in the war, not least at Gallipoli and have within recent years completed a new memorial park. I should appreciate confirmation that funding can be found to support a variety of projects linked to 1918.”

After the meeting, Councillor Brown commented:

“This gives local communities a big opportunity to build their own programme of events linked to the end of the First World War. Many families in Rutherglen and Cambuslang have relatives whose names are inscribed on the various War Memorials. However, there are now only a handful of people for whom it is a personal memory and, for children today, it probably feels as remote as the wars of Napoleon.

The Great War was a huge tragedy on a world wide scale and we need to learn its lessons. What was it like living in those days? What was it like to be a child in 1918? How did the War appear to people in the Royal Burgh of Rutherglen?

If anyone has ideas about this or wants to initiate a local event, I hope they will contact me at Robert.brown@southlanarkshire.gov.uk or by texting 07881 310 564.”

Robert Brown welcomes Good news for Springhall Hall, library and shops

1st March 2018

The public buildings in Springhall are to have a major rebuild with £450,000 of spending allocated in the Council’s capital programme over the next 2 years. Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor, who represents Springhall on the Council, has been campaigning on the issue for some time. He gave a warm welcome to the announcement.

Robert Brown said:

“This is great news. Since I was elected to the Council, I have been pressing for the public buildings in Springhall to be dealt with. I have pushed the case in discussions with the Chief Executive and his senior officials and with the successive Council Administrations of the day. I am delighted that this has pad off and that there is now a solid proposal to invest in the buildings.

The library is bright, attractive and well used but it is upstairs with no disabled access and the building is in a poor state. The shops and carpark are 1960s style buildings and no particularly attractive although the shop owners have recently done a lot to modernise and improve the internal parts of the buildings. The Hall is sturdy but has only the one large area with no smaller multi use spaces apart from the two tiny Committee rooms.

The detailed plans are currently being developed and will be consulted on in the near future. Broadly the proposal is to redevelop the Hall to include a high quality community space incorporating a flexible training and learning centre, integrated IT facilities, kitchen and pop up café, multi use area, informal meeting space and external community green space. The library will be moved over the road and the shops will probably have a pitched roof added.

My own view is that the funding suggested is too low to do the job properly but the main thing is to get the project approved in principle. Now it is part of the capital programme, we have a good basis to go forward.

The Hall, library and shops are the gateway to Springhall and their redevelopment will give a major boost to the area.”

Letter to the Editor of the Rutherglen Reformer on Education “Reforms”

16th February 2018

Dear Sir,

The SNP government’s proposed Education Bill is indeed potentially damaging rather than helpful to local schools, and has been subject to harsh criticism by Councils, parents and professional bodies. It deserves to be dumped.

Teachers numbers have slumped along with support for children with additional support needs since which have been drastically reduced since the SNP came to power in 2007. Instead of focusing on restoring teacher numbers and boosting ASN support, John Swinney’s so called education “reforms” tinker about with the structures and reduce local control over schools in favour of increased direction from the top.

Last week’s Rutherglen Reformer article suggested that I had succeeded in amending the Education. Unfortunately this is not correct. Certainly I got the Council to amend their formal response to the consultation on the Education Bill (as indeed the text of your article makes clear), but not the Bill itself.

I would have been delighted if the Education Bill had been amended – or even better dropped – but sadly this is not the case. We have still got a lot of work to do to get the SNP Government to back down on this.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Brown

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Rutherglen South

SNP Education Bill will be “damaging to Scottish education” – Liberal Democrats

3rd February 2018

The SNP Government’s proposals for restructuring the governance of Scottish schools in order to improve the education of schoolchildren in Scotland came in for harsh criticism at the meeting of the Council’s Executive Committee on 31st January. A draft Response to the Government’s Consultation on the Education (Scotland) Bill was only approved after an amendment to strength it from Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown was accepted.

The Bill’s main themes include:

  1. Transfer of some key powers currently held by the Council to a “Regional Collaborative”
  2. A Headteachers’ Charter transferring powers to appoint staff from Councils to Headteachers
  3. Strengthening of the role of Parent Councils

Robert Brown is himself a former Depute Minister for Education and Young People. He said:

“To say the least, the SNP’s Education Bill has not been very favourably received by anyone – serious concerns have been expressed by Head teachers, Parent representatives and Councils. There are major issues about extra time and training pressures on Head teachers, extra paperwork, staff organisation and support, and lines of accountability in particular.

I believe that, far from improving schools, the Bill is potentially damaging to education – it takes away much of the democratic accountability of local Councils and replaces it by an incoherent and overlapping bureaucratic mishmash. The whole thing is driven by the centralising idea that SNP Ministers in Edinburgh know best what suits the needs of South Lanarkshire schools.

My amendment made it clear that the Council were not prepared to accept having a particular form of Regional oversight body imposed on them by the Scottish government. South Lanarkshire already works well with other Councils to share best practice and good ideas and we don’t need the complication of yet more legislation on how we operate here.

There are something like 2,000 less teachers – and far fewer classroom assistants and other support staff – in Scotland now than when the SNP came to power in 2007. Indeed at one stage the drop in teacher numbers was 4,000. This is the main reason why there are challenges in education. What we need is more funding for more teachers, not fiddling about with the bureaucracy. “

Robert Brown – “People will expect us to spend their money wisely”

28th January 2018

Commenting on the revised Budget proposals for South Lanarkshire, Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown called for action on safe routes to school and other traffic hotspots.

Robert Brown said:

“I am delighted that pressure from Liberal Democrats and others in the Scottish Parliament has resulted in long overdue better funding for local Councils. Councils have been badly funded by the SNP Government for too long.

This gives South Lanarkshire Council the chance to drop some of the cuts to education, road maintenance and social work in particular – and to propose some new initiatives for the voluntary sector in particular.  I support the broad thrust of the proposals going to the Executive Committee on Wednesday but I think we have a rare opportunity to act on other issues too. People will rightly expect us to spend their money wisely.

The bad winter this year has put the spotlight on the potholes caused by the big freeze but I want to see a greater emphasis on safe routes to school and to local facilities. I want to see more resources focused on tackling traffic hotspots, improving crossing points for older people and parents with prams, slowing traffic in residential areas and making our local communities safer for residents.”