In this week’s update from Labour Group Leader Chris Kane:
- SNP Councillors voting AGAINST reversing budget cuts they’ve spent the week complaining about
- Dunblane and Bridge of Allan residents – VOTE for David Wilson ON THURSDAY THIS WEEK
- Labour Councillors put £1.5M into a Community Wealth Building Fund for Stirling
I’m going to try and write more regular blogs on what’s been happening at the council. There’s a huge many things going on and I’ll not get to cover everything, but I’ll try to write about the issues looming large in my mind when I sit down to write it. This week that’s council budget issues and, unfortunately, the, ahem, regrettable behaviour of the SNP Group and Independent Councillor Alasdair MacPherson. But first, I’m hugely excited by the possibilities in next week’s Dunblane and Bridge of Allan by-election.
Dunblane and Bridge of Allan residents – vote ‘1’ for Scottish Labour’s David Wilson on Thursday 16th March.
There is a by-election in Dunblane and Bridge of Allan next Thursday 16th and turnout will be key. If you’re a Labour supporter, your vote could be the difference between electing Labour Candidate David Wilson or an SNP/Tory candidate. David would be an excellent councillor and you can read more about his story. The political pendulum is swinging back towards Labour. Less than two weeks ago, Labour won a by-election in Aberdeen which saw SNP voters desert the party and Labour increase vote share from last May. Labour has a real shot in Dunblane and Bridge of Allan – but only with your help. Vote ‘1’ for David Wilson on Thursday 16th March and elected another strong Labour voice to Stirling Council.
SNP Councillors vote AGAINST reversals to budget cuts
Stirling Council set its budget before the First Minister announced full funding for ‘Big Noise’ projects, saying on Twitter:
I know from my own constituency how inspiring and beneficial the @sistemascotland Big Noise programme is for the young people who take part. I know times are tough for councils – but delighted to confirm that @scotgov will ensure Sistema gets the funding it needs to secure future https://t.co/58SvQA61jE
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) March 4, 2023
Her announcement came on the back of SNP led councils in Dundee and Aberdeen taking the decision to cut 100% of the funding they provided for projects in their area. Given Stirling’s long partnership with Big Noise, we felt a 10% cut was appropriate in the current financial climate, but we did award £392,000.
Had we known the Scottish Government were prepared to fund Big Noise projects, we would have taken the opportunity to use this £392,000 to offset difficult decisions in other areas. So on Thursday 9th, at the full meeting of council, we presented a motion to reverse the cuts listed below. All SNP councillors, and independent councillor Alasdair Macpherson, voted AGAINST saving these services:
- No rise in Bridge of Allan allotment charges – SNP against
- No cut to Smith Art Gallery and Museum budget – SNP against
- No cut to Stirlingshire Voluntary Enterprise budget – SNP against
- No changes to provision at Aberfoyle Nursery – SNP against
- No changes to provision at Fintry Nursery – SNP against
- Don’t raise charges for nursery fees – SNP against
- Reinstate free bulky uplifts for over 60s – SNP against
- Reinstate Springkerse Park and Ride – SNP against
- No increase in charges for MECS users – SNP against
- No reduction in digital inclusion support in libraries – SNP against
I find it difficult to understand how the SNP Councillors can spend all week on social media decrying the decisions of 2nd March, but when presented with an opportunity made possible by an SNP First Minister, they decided NOT to help local organisations and services. I can’t help wonder if the SNP Councillors, and Cllr Macpherson, are prioritising political point scoring over the financial wellbeing of council services and partner organisations.
It’s not just SNP Councillors …
Stirling MP Alyn Smith and local MSP Keith Brown have been tweeting about increases to Bridge of Allan allotment fees, as has the SNP candidate in the local by-election. On this particular issue, the SNP Group of Stirling Councillors proposed exactly the same increase in fees to the allotments as the Labour Administration. The SNP councillors had the chance (see above) to vote to reverse the cut but chose to vote against a Labour proposal. When the SNP propose a cut, SNP MP Alyn Smith is silent, but when another party proposes it, he is shocked. Keith Brown is silent on SNP proposals to raise Bridge of Allan allotment fees but happy to retweet an SNP candidate calling the cuts ‘vicious’ and allotment users ‘victims’. Do Alyn and Keith not care, or not notice, that their SNP councillor colleagues proposed identical cost increases in their budget motion? Or could it be that one narrative suits them better than the other? Nicola Sturgeon talked about the ‘brutality’ of modern political discourse as part of her consideration in resigning. The SNP candidate is inexperienced and has a lot to learn, but Keith Brown and Alyn Smith are professionals of whom we should all expect a higher standard.
Community Capacity Fund
The budget decisions around Bridge of Allan Allotments are a good example of a looming, larger problem faced by Stirling Council.
As I’ve said in a previous blog, unless the funding arrangements for councils is overhauled in the coming months not years, then the very survival of councils as we know them today is under threat. Unfortunately we’ve got to play with the cards we’ve been dealt, so in our budget we’ve created a ‘Community Capacity Fund’ to assist communities in building both the capacity and the resilience to take over the running of council assets such as Community Centres and sports pavilions. If the council can’t afford to operate these assets, then the alternatives are community transfer, temporary closure (‘mothballing’) or permanent closure.
In 2013, when I was the chair of Braehead Community Council, we were (one of a few community councils across Scotland) given a grant from the Scottish Government of £10,000 to test a question ahead in the early planning stages of the work on what would become the ‘Community Empowerment Bill’. The question was ‘does a community council have the capacity to run a council asset within the community’. This grant gave us the support to work up a further funding application to the Big Lottery which resulted in a £250,000 award to build Braehead Community Garden. Our answer to the question was, yes, community councils can run community assets but community development trusts are more agile and so we set one up and the garden has been open for seven years and is doing well.
Our ‘community empowerment fund’ will allow us to work with communities to ask similar questions and where capacity does exist and where there is a willingness, we can have conversations about whether the most sustainable future is as a council run or a community run asset. Where capacity does not exist, just as we did in Braehead, the fund can help build it until an asset transfer conversation is viable.
This is all a key part of ‘Community Wealth Building’, and you can read more about Stirling’s approach to it in this paper that was passed by council this week.
Specifically on allotments, currently the council owns four allotment sites. Three are self-managed by user management committees and as such are able to run the sites much more cost effectively than the council. Stirling Council currently spends £9000 per year administering this allotment site and generates £2876 in income. The option taken in the budget was for ‘full cost recovery’, so council would not make any money from Bridge of Allan increase, but wouldn’t lose money either. I would encourage the users of the allotments to get together and look to take over this site and run is through a user group – I know the council would actively welcome this and work closely with allotment holders to make this happen.
That’s it for this week
That’s all from me this week – but one final reminder if you live in Dunblane and Bridge of Allan, don’t forget to vote ‘1’ for David Wilson on Thursday 16th March. If you’re pledged your support to another candidate, you can still support David with your second preference ‘2’ vote.