Rutherglen Reformer article – A Desperate Need for Leadership

10th January 2018

Over the holidays I have been reading two inspirational books – Barack Obama’s book Dreams from my Father, and a new biography of Bobby Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for President assassinated in his prime in 1968.

Bobby Kennedy, brother of JFK, was the hero of my youth. He had the ability to recognise the great issues of his time – the Vietnam War, colour segregation, urban hopelessness – and to try to do something about them. I can still see the pictures of so many poor people, young people, black people, standing in sorrowful salute along the tracks as the train bearing his coffin back to Washington passed by, taking with it the hopes of a generation.

Barack Obama’s book described his search for his family roots and identity in Chicago, Hawaii and Kenya. The book is shot through with political insights, the challenges facing people ground down by economic insecurity, class and colour divisions and their frustrated aspirations for something better.

In 2018, we have Trump, Brexit and drift – a fearful, populist and nationalist agenda, oozing division and blame.

The indecisive European referendum of 2016 cried out for leadership, recognising the alienation that contributed to the result – but also the uncertainty and the division. Instead of the hard Brexit – or even the “no deal’” Brexit – the Conservative Government are pursuing, the Prime Minister should have tried to deal with the grievances and unite people behind agendas of hope and common cause, a new vision of European partnership not the insipid “Brexit means Brexit” slogan.

Theresa May’s botched cabinet reshuffles may have one good result – able people like Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry and Justine Greening are lined up resentfully on the backbenches. There is a potential cross party alliance with the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the Greens.

The missing piece is Labour – who, with notable exceptions have lined up behind the Tories as pitiful cheerleaders for a hard Brexit. My hope for 2018 is that Labour MPs will get some backbone and articulate the European future that most of them believe in.

In 2018, we seem bereft of leaders able to steer a more hopeful course!

Liberal Democrats – “Scottish budget will be damaging to Council services”

18th December 2017

Local Council services look likely to face substantial cuts as a result of the SNP Government’s draft Scottish Budget outlined last week. Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said the SNP had “massively overhyped” their Budget plans and had performed a “sleight of hand” on Councils, landing them with increased pressures and reduced Budgets.

Robert Brown said:

“Liberal Democrats wanted a penny on income tax to deliver a transformative investment in education and a step change in mental health. The SNP Government opposed this at the elections but have now been forced to do something. I welcome this but it amounts to little more than tinkering.

The SNP Government overhyped publicity suggested it was bonanza time for Councils. Instead they have tried a sleight of hand against local communities and local services – the result of the SNP Budget is actually a complicated mishmash which will be damaging to Council services. A,ccording to research by the Scottish Parliament, the Budget leaves Councils facing a cut of £183.7 million in real terms as well as having to find another £150 million to meet the Scottish Government’s unfunded pay policy.

The SNP go on about the evil Westminster Government but the SNP themselves have made a deliberate decision to slash Council budgets. From 2013-14 to 2017-8, Council budgets from the Scottish Government fell by 6.9% whereas the Scottish Government Revenue Budget fell by only 1.6%. Now Council services – which means road repairs, school staff, libraries, halls, social services – look like facing further substantial cuts.

Perils of the School Run

Article in the Rutherglen Reformer 7th December 2017 by Councillor Robert Brown 

The Rutherglen Reformer has reported regularly on the increasing volume of cars on local roads, and speeding and other concerns by local residents across many local streets – including Broomieknowe Road, Greenlees Road, Richmond Drive, Calderwood Road and Curtis Avenue amongst others.

This week we had the first meeting of the Roads Safety Forum – potentially a very influential body made up of Councillors, roads and education officials and police amongst others.

The single biggest pressure point is probably around local schools at the morning and afternoon school runs. It is fair to say that most parents drive with consideration for others, particularly children. However hurry to get to work, impatience and aggression are also an unwelcome feature from a minority of parents and carers at many schools. Some people seem to think it is OK to double park, block car park routes, obstruct resident driveways and park on pavements. Double yellow lines and prohibitive zig zags are there for other people!

The Council have taken a number of initiatives to encourage children to walk to school. A range of leaflets and publicity materials are available. Everyone is aware of the health benefits of having more exercise and walking more. Most primary schools have a School Travel Plan – and pupil Junior Road Safety Officers who take their duties very seriously!

Yet the sad truth is that little change is being effected in the proportions of children who walk to school – and the more congested the school gate, the less attractive walking or cycling becomes.

So the Roads Safety Forum is looking at what more can be done to make travel to school safer, to reduce school gate congestion, to reduce unnecessary parking around schools and to persuade more children (and parents) of the benefits of walking to school.

The safety of children has to be the first consideration. I want to see the best ideas across the Council and from other areas brought together to make a real impact, making the school gate safer and routes to school which are pleasant for children and parents alike.

“Tory Government have landed Brexit in a worse mess than ever” – Liberal Democrats

8th December 2017

The initial deal done by Prime Minister Theresa May with the European Union is a fudge on top of a surrender on top of a contradiction. This was the comment by Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown following the Conservative Government’s last minute deal with the European Union to allow Brexit talks to continue. The end result was to land Britain and the Brexit process in a worse mess than ever.

Robert Brown said:

“So far the Government’s negotiations have achieved literally nothing. All the controversial issues have been punted into the long grass – the Northern Ireland border, the “divorce” bill, access to the Single Market and the Customs Union. Instead of saving £350 million a week as the Brexiteers promised, we have a bill thought to be around £60 BILLION to pay.

This is an agreement made up of contradictory assurances – not least to the DUP on the one hand and the European Union on the other about the Irish Border. It is also increasingly clear that we will need to stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union and accept their rules – but lose any power to influence these as we have at present as members.

The Conservative party are in complete chaos over Brexit. When Theresa May returns with a bad deal or no deal at all, the British people must be allowed their say on the terms in a Brexit deal referendum – with the option to halt the whole process altogether.

Every day, Brexit is proving to be the worst decision made by any British government in three quarters of a century.”

Royal Bank Closures condemned by Council

7th December 2017

The Royal Bank of Scotland came in for sustained cross party criticism for its further programme of branch closures at Wednesday’s meeting of South Lanarkshire Council.

An urgent Statement agreed by all the Political Party Leaders attacked the Royal Bank’s decision to close 62 further branches in Scotland. In this area, Cambuslang and Burnside branches have already closed. Now more branches across Lanarkshire are due to close.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:

“It is a matter of shame for Scotland that the profiteering greed of the Royal Bank of Scotland almost crashed the national and world economies in 2008. The Bank is still part owned by the taxpayer and it should remember that.

The Bank has already closed its branches in Burnside and Cambuslang without looking at alternatives to help local customers – like collaboration with other Banks to provide pay in facilities for local businesses and groups. It is time they took seriously their duties to local communities and residents.”

The Leaders’ statement reads:

“South Lanarkshire Council deplores the announcement by the Royal Bank of Scotland that it intends to close 62 branches in Scotland.

These are reported to include several that serve communities in South Lanarkshire – Biggar, Carnwarth, Douglas, Cadzow St. in Hamilton, Larkhall, Lesmahagow and Strathaven and earlier closures at Cambuslang and Burnside.

Council is deeply concerned about the potential impact of such closures on local communities, especially those in rural areas and those where there are no other bank branches.

Council notes that such closures would be a betrayal of the RBS Customer Charter of June 2010 which included a commitment never to close a branch which was ‘the last bank in town’.

Council supports efforts to fight the closures and mitigate the impact on our local communities and residents.

Salami-slicing of Council services must stop – Liberal Democrats

4th December 2017

Council services can take no more cuts without serious reductions in both general Council services and in education and social work services supporting children and vulnerable people. This was the comment by Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown in reaction to South Lanarkshire Council’s budget proposals which go before the Executive Committee this week.
Robert Brown said:
“The Council is largely dependent on central government grant for funding for local services. These are vital services like teaching staff in education, social work staff caring for vulnerable children, disabled people and older people together with the cultural, sporting and voluntary sector supports which provide libraries, football fields, youthwork provision, employment support and a range of other things which make South Lanarkshire a better place.
For some years we have suffered annual budget shortfalls of around £20 million. The result has been salami slicing of key staff in all areas. We have had a “double whammy” – reductions from the SNP Government in the Council share of the Scottish budget as well as the general austerity since the banking crisis in 2008.
This constant damage to Council services has to stop– it affects every citizen of South Lanarkshire in some way, and particularly people more dependent on local services, such as older people and children.
I am particularly concerned at the further cuts in attendance and behaviour support in schools, the heavy cuts proposed in road and pavement resurfacing and the growing pressure on community care for elderly people.
Liberal Democrats have consistently argued for a 1p increase in Scottish income tax to fund a transformational investment in education – and there are now at last some signs that the SNP Scottish Government in Edinburgh is embarrassed by the way Scottish schools have been slipping down international league tables under their watch and are looking at this. It is not before time.
Final decisions will probably not be taken on the Council budget until February. Before then, we need announcements of clear and specific support from the Scottish Government. They have the powers – they need to use them!”

Robert Brown supports Unison’s SOS Libraries Day campaign

19th November 2017

Commenting on Unison’s SOS Libraries Day campaign, Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:
“I very much welcome Unison’s SOS Libraries Day on Thursday. It is a timely reminder of the importance of libraries. Libraries are a tremendous resource for our local communities, old and young alike which we can often trace back to the foresight of our Victorian ancestors.
Nowadays the role of the library has widened with the availability of IT services, large print and audio materials and exhibitions or displays of community history. They help avoid isolation and, as Unison point out, also save the NHS by supporting people’s health and social education.
Locally we have accessible libraries in Rutherglen, Cambusang, Cathkin and Halfway which are of huge value to local people.”

Robert Brown comments on Parliamentary Boundary proposals

19th October 2017

Commenting on the Boundary Commission proposals for new Parliamentary constituency boundaries, Rutherglen Liberal Democrat councillor Robert Brown said:
“I am strongly against losing Rutherglen from the constituency name. People identify strongly with historic communities, not least in Rutherglen with its historic Royal Burgh status.
The actual boundaries at least keep Rutherglen and Cambuslang intact within one constituency although I think a link with Bothwell and Uddingston might have been a more obvious link.
This is being driven mainly by the Conservative Government however because it is thought likely to benefit them. It would be a great shame if the historic Rutherglen Parliamentary name disappeared as a side product of the weakness of Teresa May’s Government.
At present it looks as if these proposals may be locked into the long grass because of the strength of political opposition to them in Westminster.”

Liberal Democrats call for an “Exit from Brexit” as May and Corbyn mark time

Rutherglen Reformer article – st October 2017 – by Councillor Robert Brown

It is astonishing that,15 months after the European referendum, no one knows the policy of either the Conservative government or the Labour Opposition on Brexit.

Yes, they both want to leave the European Union – and both refuse to let us have a vote on the Brexit terms. Otherwise it’s just the blank piece of paper which David Davis took to the negotiations.

Whether Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn want to stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union or not remains a mystery, along with pretty much everything else about the post-Brexit situation.

The squabbles between Theresa May and her uninspiring colleagues is a daily soap opera while the EU negotiators try to decipher the British Government’s position. So far there is no sign of a single advantage to Brexit – it’s all about limiting the damage!

Meanwhile the Labour leadership were so concerned about taking a position that they refused to allow a vote on Brexit at the recent Labour Conference.

Frankly it’s not good enough. Over the summer Rutherglen and Cambuslang holidaymakers have seen the value of their pound plummet by a quarter. Now the magic deal with the UK eagerly awaited by the USA and the world’s other big economies was demolished by the Bombardier fiasco – with 4,000 jobs in Belfast threatened by American protectionist duties of 220%.

Meantime a major think tank has shown that the Glasgow area was amongst the 50 worst hit areas regardless of a soft or hard Brexit. However you look at it, leaving Europe is a slow motion crash, damaging to jobs, businesses, living standards and public revenues.

The time is coming when the public will demand a rethink on Brexit. People in our area and across the country did not vote in the referendum to make themselves poorer, to destroy our economy and the prosperity of our cities.

The new Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, is the only Party leader to offer a way out – a public vote on the terms of Brexit once they are negotiated.

An exit from Brexit – an option to change our minds – should lie with the public.

Local residents up in arms over Cathkin By Pass lights fault

25th September 2017

Local residents in the Cathkin By Pass area are up in arms over the lighting fault which has kept the By Pass in darkness since the end of August. A street lighting control pillar was damaged on 30th August and Scottish Power attended the same day to make the supply safe. The Council Lighting Department installed a new control pillar the following day and asked Scottish Power to reinstate the electricity supply. However the company have 30 working days to do the work which allows them until 19th October.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said:

“This is a totally ridiculous situation where the lights on Cathkin By Pass will have been out for 6 weeks. The Council have now got a promise that the work will in fact be done on 10th October which is a slight improvement but it appears that Scottish Power are allowed the 30 working days – equivalent to about 6 weeks – under rules laid down by Ofgem, the Regulator. I have written to Ofgen to find out the background and to urge a review.

Meantime my constituents in Cathkin and Springhall have the main road through the area left without street lighting during the hours of darkness. It seems to me that, if the Council can do the substantial repair within 24 hours, it should not be impossible for Scottish Power with all their resources to restore the electric supply much more quickly. I can see no compelling reason for them