Month: January 2019

Leisure Trust needs to be opened up – Liberal Democrats

21st December 2018

South Lanarkshire Council runs its leisure and culture activities – halls, libraries, museums, sports facilities Rutherglen Town Hall, Cambuslang Institute and similar facilities – through a semi-independent body called South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture Limited which is set up as an arms-length charitable body.

But, after a major row involving the removal of the SNP Chair of the Leisure Trust Board by the SNP Administration itself, Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brownhas demanded that the Trust be opened up much more to public scrutiny.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Council’s Executive Committee, Robert Brown secured an admission that the Leisure Trust required to be more transparent and that new arrangements would be proposed for the start of the new financial year.

Robert Brown said:

“South Lanarkshire Leisure & Culture Trust Ltd. holds its Board meetings in private, there is no public notification of its agenda and there are no published minutes of its decisions. Frankly thus is quite outrageous for a body which runs so many important Council facilities.

Following the publication of an exchange of correspondence between the former Chair of the Leisure Trust Board (who has been suddenly removed without public explanation by the SNP Administration) and the Council’s Head of Legal Services – which I had requested at the last Executive meeting – it emerged that the core reason for the change related to the issue of the relationship between the Trust and the Council following a complaint and threatened litigation. 

Neither the Council nor the Executive Committee have had any kind of report on this which is clearly a major concern for both bodies. At the very least there could have been a confidential report to Councillors or perhaps to importance to key aspects of the Council’s business, rumbles on without Councillors having any kind of report or insight into the issues. Meantime there are no published minutes of the Trust nor any transparency of its operations and meetings.”

After the meeting, Robert Brown commented:

“This may sound like an argument amongst council insiders with no relevance to the public but in fact it is about the running of services that are important to everyone – swimming pools, libraries, halls, meeting places. For example there was a later item on the agenda indicating that the Council might have to bail out the Trust to the tune of an extra £400,000 this year. It is quite unacceptable to be in this position without the Trust Board being publicly accountable for it.”

Calls for ending of Primary One testing backed by Robert Brown

21st December 2018

Primary One tests on young children in South Lanarkshire should be halted following the Scottish Parliament’s vote on 19th September calling on the Scottish Government to stop the tests. This was the view of Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown, speaking in a debate on the subject at South Lanarkshire Council on Wednesday.

The debate led to a dramatic 31-31 vote (with 1 abstention) with Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative Councillors supporting suspension of the tests – equally balanced by SNP and Independent Councillors who backed the SNP Government’s position. The Council Provost had to use his casting vote to defeat the move to suspend the tests.

Robert Brownsaid:

“It is unfortunate that the SNP Education Secretary John Swinney had not taken more heed of the view of MSPs from all the other Parties – Liberal Democrat, Labour, Conservative and Green – that P1 tests were unnecessary, sometimes damaging and opposed by many parents, teachers, unions and others.

Teachers are already aware from their engagement with children in their care where there are issues – and these are unlikely to be spotted by bureaucratic tests in any event. The tests are really  a bureaucratic requirement by the Scottish Government which takes away from teaching time and diverts attention from the real issues of class sizes and teacher numbers. 

The SNP Education Secretary lacks public or Parliamentary support for pressing on with the tests. It is therefore entirely right that the Council should look at options for suspending the P1 tests. 

This was a very close and hotly-debated vote and P1 tests will unfortunately continue for the time being. I remain of the view they have little benefit and are a distraction for teachers. As in Parliament, opposition to the tests came from all the other political Parties – Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrats – which, in my experience, is extremely unusual.”

Backing Lanarkshire Veterans

21st December 2018

South Lanarkshire Council is backing efforts to give veterans more backing in getting back into civilian life and employment. The Council backed a motion by Councillor Mark McGeever agreeing to create a guaranteed interview scheme for ex armed forces personnel applying for employment vacancies with the Council. 

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brownsuccessfully moved an amendment welcoming the work of Veterans Point Lanarkshire, a service developed by veterans for veterans, in providing practical and mental health support in the community by veterans peer support staff working with a small psychology team.

Robert Brown said:

“Armed forces personnel have served their country in many theatres. The Council is already signed up to the  Armed Forces Covenant recognising society’s obligations to its veterans. Many ex service people have significant skills which are not always certificated. There is also a high incidence of post traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues which affect some ex service people. 

It is vital that the Council and other agencies give all appropriate support to transition from military life back to civilian lie when they leave the Armed Forces. I was surprised to discover just how many veterans there are in Lanarkshire, some of whom struggle for various reasons when they come out of the forces.

This is the centenary year of the Armistice ending the First World War in 1918. It is entirely appropriate that all efforts are made to make sure our ex service people are valued and supported.”

Reformer Article – “Time to see the other point of view!”

30th November 2018

This last weekend saw the switching on of the Christmas lights in Rutherglen, Burnside and Cambuslang. We are already into December, another festive season upon us, dark and wet weather the order of the day.

The darkness of the season is matched by the darkness of the political world. The Prime Minister has spent the last week touring the UK, telling everyone that her Brexit “deal” is the only game in town. 

Yet, at the same time, official studies from the UK and Scottish Governments, the Governor of the Bank of England and others all point out that all forms of Brexit are worse economically than staying in the European Union. No wonder so many people are now joining the Liberal Democrats in calling for a People’s Vote on the Brexit terms.

So I am glad that I was able to persuade South Lanarkshire Council to back a People’s Vote with an option to stay in the EU. A People’s Vote is becoming increasingly likely – and may be the only way to resolve the obvious stalemate in Parliament. 

But reversing the European referendum decision of 2016 would not solve all problems. Politics has been dominated for far too long by the divisions of Brexit and the independence referenda – both fuelled by dissatisfaction with current political parties, by lack of hope of a better future after the financial crisis, by a sense of being let down by our leaders.

Brexit has already been enormously costly – but it has produced a close examination of many business sectors and many issues as part of the negotiation. We know that London and the financial services industry are too dominant in the political and economic life of our country, that free movement across Europe is vastly more important than it was made out to be, that too much power has been scooped away from local communities by the Scottish, British and European governments, and that lack of business investment, gross inequality of reward, and inadequate research and development continue to hold back our economy.

So the People’s Vote we want on Brexit should be rather more inspiring than the grim referendum of 2016. It might help if we each tried to understand the perspective of those who take a different view to our own. 

Rutherglen Liberal Democrats out in streets with Brexitometer

19th November 2018

Local Liberal Democrats were hitting the streets in Rutherglen on Friday in support of their campaign for a People’s Vote on the terms of Brexit. The Party ran a street stall in Main Street, Rutherglen with a Brexitometer survey on public attitudes. The results showed an overwhelming majority of people in the Rutherglen area supported both a People’s Vote on the terms and stating in the EU.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:

“Our Street stall was part of a Scottish Liberal Democrat Action Weekend across Scotland in support of a People’s Vote. It was by chance well timed as it followed shortly after the Prime Minister announced her newest proposals for a Brexit deal with the European Union – which has been roundly condemned from all sides. Our Brexitometer was very popular with lots of people keen to express their views.

Brexit threatens to cause huge damage to our economy, security and environment and the deal Theresa May has secured has utterly disintegrated. Brexit will hurt the pockets of ordinary people and leave the United Kingdom weakened.

This is not inevitable. Liberal Democrats demand better. There is a growing tide of public opinion in favour of a Peoples Vote and of staying in the European Union. Only last week, Liberal Democrats got the Scottish Parliament to back a People’s Vote for the first time. Last month, there was za huge March I London which attracted about 700,000 people in support of a People’s Vote.

MSPs and MPs who back the People’s Vote are fast forming the biggest and most cohesive bloc in British politics. Every day, more and more people are coming to the conclusion that the public should have their say on the final Brexit deal.”

Council Transparency – Letter to Editor

The Editor,

Rutherglen Reformer

4thNovember 2018

Dear Sir,

I think Dorothy Connor (Letters 31stOctober 2018) rather misses my point in her comments on the issue of the transparency of South Lanarkshire Council.

The central problem is that most key decisions are delegated to the Council’s Executive Committee rather than being decided by the full Council. In my view the full Council should be the main democratic forum for debate and decision on important issues – partly because it gives all Councillors a voice, and partly because it will attract greater publicity and therefore the issue is more likely to be heard and seen by the public. As Dorothy Connor rightly says, Councillors are responsible to the public.

I was in fact the first Councillor, as far as I am aware, to make a fuss about this and to call for the Council to be opened up to public accountability in a more effective way. The key Budget decisions should certainly be made by the full Council but that is only the start. There should for example be a proper Question Time – as there is in many other Councils – where the Council Administration can be properly questioned on how they are carrying out their functions. I think too the public would be interested in “town hall” accountability meetings in local communities on issues of concern to them.

The SNP Administration did not cover itself with glory by rejecting the modest and reasonable proposals in the motion from Labour group Leader Joe Fagan and myself for the Liberal Democrats. However it is fair to say that the current arrangements where the full Council is too often a formality were established in the many years during which Labour ran the Council. It was only when Labour were put out of office last year that they had a ‘road to Damascus” moment. 

The reality is that the public are not effectively engaged in key Council decisions. This must change and a wholesale review of how the Council operates is long overdue.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Brown

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Rutherglen South

Robert Brown welcomes Cathkin Tenant Co-op agreement

4th November 2018

Cathkin Braes Tenant Management Co-operative has won a renewal of its agreement with South Lanarkshire Council to manage over 200 council houses in Cathkin for a further 5 year period. The Co-op – run by a tenant committee from the area – has managed the properties for over 30 years. The new agreement was approved by the Council’s Housing Committee at its meeting on Wednesday.

Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown who represents the Cathkin area gave a warm welcome to the decision.

Robert Brownsaid:

“I am delighted that Cathkin Braes TM Co-operative has won such a vote of confidence from the Council – based not least on the high satisfaction rates it gets from local residents.

Cathkin is the only Tenant Management Co-operative which remains in South Lanarkshire but I would like to see the Council look at this idea in other areas, particularly ones with a lot of tenement houses. The Council told me at the Housing Committee that they were supportive of future Co-ops but that initiatives to start them needed strong support from local residents.

Cathkin Co-op is successful because it is run locally by local people and is responsive to local needs.

The Council report commented: “Cathkin Braes TMC is  successful, tenant led organisation that performs well, delivers good outcomes and is well regarded by tenants living in the area.” There was a satisfaction rating of 98% in an independent survey. That speaks for itself.”

Robert Brown: Budget is a “treading water” Budget, overshadowed by Brexit

28th October 2018

Commenting on the Chancellor’s Budget, Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brownsaid:

“This was largely a standstill Budget with some giveaways funded by statistical errors in the forecasts. It failed on 2 main tests:

  • It is totally overshadowed by the threat of Brexit to the public finances. These costs could reach £80 billion a year if there is no deal with the EU. Even the Chancellor has found it necessary to squirrel away £15 billion towards paying for Brexit
  • It doesn’t end austerity – that could only be done by raising taxes. As we know, schools, hospitals, council services are all under pressure – as are the wages and incomes of many families.

Liberal Democrats demand better than this. We needed a Budget that gave people fairer taxes and better public services, and a final say on the Brexit deal. Today, we got none of that with Philip Hammond’s ‘treading water” Budget”.