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.”

Rutherglen Reformer article -How should we mark the centenary of the Great War Armistice?

15th February 2018

In the archives of the National Library of Scotland, you can see a silent moving film of the unveiling of the Rutherglen Cenotaph on 26th October 1924 in the presence of an enormous crowd. The Imperial War Museum record says the Cenotaph contains 544 names.

The majority of these names are from the First World War which ended with the Armistice on 11th November 1918 – 100 years ago this year.

The Reformer reported that the bells were rung from the Town Hall – but against an atmosphere of mixed celebration and pain:

“The hoisting of the Union Jack was a signal. It seemed as if a fairy wand had passed over the Burgh…

But mingled with joy … there was a sad recollection of loved ones who had gone away…”

Over a million members of the British and Commonwealth forces died in the War – with many more crippled, gassed or suffering horrendous psychological damage. The Great War changed our country in many ways too.

In Rutherglen, Australia, a Memorial Park completed in 2007 shows the names of 115 men who died in WW1, many at Gallipoli. The trees planted in the park originated from cuttings brought back by soldiers returning from Gallipoli.

The toll of local deaths is inscribed on the cenotaphs in Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Westburn but on other memorials in club houses or places of work too. At Gilbertfield Road there is a cairn in memory of men who marched from Dechmont to Newton station going to the front.

1918 is now a long time ago but we should remember the sacrifice of the men from Rutherglen in fitting ways relevant to all our people, young and old.

These might include:

  • A major exhibition of Rutherglen and its people in 1918, perhaps in the Town Hall
  • A gathering of all the local Churches, religious groups, voluntary organisations and local people in Rutherglen at the Cenotaph for the November Armistice event
  • A linked event with Rutherglen, Australia

I would be interested in any imaginative ideas on this. The men and women of 1918 are part of our collective heritage in Rutherglen and Cambuslang.

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.