Parkhead Housing Association’s annual general meeting this week was an historic one for several reasons. For the first time in 28 years there was an election for the Association’s Board and the Chief Executive, James Strang, made a strong plea for a ‘fair share’ of the Scottish Government’s investment budget which was to be announced the following day.
Mr Strang, who is also Chair of the Chartered Institute of Housing told tenants and guest speaker, local MSP John Mason: ‘When the Scottish Government’s budget for the next three years is announced, we need to see that even in hard times, housing has taken no more than its fair share of the pain. Building new homes doesn’t just help people in serious housing need; it means keeping people in jobs and creating new jobs. And a stronger economy is what Scotland needs when times are tough.’
He went on: ‘This year has seen a record low in the number of social rented homes given the go-ahead. In the current climate we expected some cuts but we didn’t expect to see the programme decimated in the way it has been. A fair budget for housing next year means more homes can be given the go-ahead this year, so we call on Ministers to deliver on this.’
In response, SNP MSP for Glasgow Shettleston, John Mason said: ‘Parkhead Housing Association does tremendous work in the East End of Glasgow. I am delighted that they are now my Constituency Office landlord.
‘I recently attended the unveiling of 25 of the Association’s new flats and the restoration of two neglected tenements. These are a great boost for the Parkhead area where there is a real demand for good quality, affordable, rented housing.
‘Despite Westminster’s cuts to Scotland’s budget, the Scottish Government is still committed to building new houses and plugging the demand for new affordable housing. I fully support that and would put housing at the top of my list if there is to be any extra capital expenditure available.’
A film was made of the evening which also included entertainment for all the guests.
Five candidates stood for the three Board places. Current Chair and longstanding Board member John Ferguson was re-elected along with Liz Kennedy and former Board Member Maureen Eden. The unsuccessful candidates – Ina Rennie and Jim McKenzie – were thanked for their excellent service during their time on the Board.
Speaking about the board elections, Parkhead Chair John Ferguson MBE said: ‘Parkhead Housing Association is a successful community-based housing association, but we’re nothing without the involvement of our tenants. The fact that we’ve had so much interest from Parkhead tenants wanting to join the board shows the dynamism of the organisation and the community spirit that’s alive and well in the East End of Glasgow.’
The AGM – the Association’s 34th – was held in Parkhead Congregational Church.
In advance of the Budget, and of the Scottish Parliament elections, CITIZENS UNITED shut down Barclay’s bank in Argyle Street, Glasgow on Tuesday 22 March in protest at the swingeing cuts they anticipate.
A group of eight people entered the bank and began their peaceful demonstration by holding up posters saying ‘Bin Barclay’s Banker Bonuses’.
Their spokesman pointed out in a loud voice: ‘There would be no public service cuts if tax avoidance, tax evasion and bankers’ grotesque bonuses were not allowed. They would pay for all the public services that the ordinary voter is going to have to pay for. It will be the sick and the poor who will suffer. Not Bob Diamond, Barclay’s chief executive, who received a £9.5 million bonus.’
After police intervention, the group left the bank premises and proceeded to speak out on the pavement in front. A sizeable crowd gathered and applauded Sean Clerkin, the group’s orator. One man shook his hand afterwards and said: ‘Well put!’
One of the group, Letitia MacGillivray who was due to celebrate her 80th birthday, declared: ‘I worked in the National Health Service all my life. I nursed my parents and my husband. I want to see something done to end people’s suffering.’In similar vein, former shop steward, Charles MacPherson told the LOCAL NEWS: ‘In my opinion the high heid bankers taking the bonuses should be in prison. They are like the Mafia, but without the guns.’Said Sean Clerkin afterwards: ‘It took only eight people to close this bank for an hour. Any group can do what CITIZENS UNITED did if they feel as strongly. We will be asking questions of the politicians standing for election. This is a very serious issue. If the rich were taxed, the poor would not suffer. If tax evasion and tax avoidance was addressed there would be £140 billion more in the public purse. As it is, community centres will close, disabled people will have mobility allowances taken away, cancer patients will have support dramatically cut and vital services will be done away with. People need to remember this when they cast their vote in May.’
Later, Barclay’s Bank commented the ‘short’ demonstration forced temporary closure of the branch and apologised to customers for any inconvenience.
The Argyle Street Barclays opened on 30th November 2010. Their B Bothwell Street branch opened in July 2008. ‘They are part of a UK wide programme of investment to make Barclays branches the go-to bank on the high street,’ said the spokesman.
He added: ‘ Barclays complies with taxation laws in the UK and in all the countries where we do business. We are one of the UK’s largest taxpayers and the financial services industry as a whole is the single largest tax contributor to HM Revenue and Customs every year.
‘In 2009, Barclays paid over £2bn in taxes to HMRC and we have contributed around £12.5bn of taxes to HMRC in the last 6 years (2004 to 2009).
‘We support, and have signed up to, the UK Government’s tax Code of Practice”.
The spokesman said: ‘We are sensitive to public opinion on the subject of pay. Barclays recognises the need to pay its employees responsibly. In a global market for talent we pay for performance, rewarding success not failure.”
This week, Glasgow City Council passed a budget for the next financial year which invests in jobs, education, dealing with potholes and improving services for vulnerable children and the homeless. But the occasion in the City Chambers was the excuse for all parties to launch party political broadsides as people line up for the May elections.
By 42 votes – Labour has a majority of 47 in the chambers which has 79 elected members – the Labour budget was passed. The SNP amendment – calling for the budget process to be ‘open and transparent’ but not offering any details of ways they’d choose to do that, received 18 votes. There are 19 SNP members including Councillor Alison Thewliss whose baby was with her in the chambers for the debate.
A Lib-Dem amendment – with pages of detailed ways to apportion the funds – received 6 votes which was the full party complement.
The Green Party with 5 members, got 5 votes for their proposals which included letting grass grow longer to save money on the number of times it has to be cut.
Sole Conservative David Meikle did not have a seconder till Independent Colin Deans seconded the Tory proposals which included a 10% reduction in the Chief Executive’s salary.
While he’d seconded the Tory amendement, Deans disagreed with most of it. He also forecast that ‘the worst is still to come. People losing jobs, spending power down.’
Budget measures approved include trebling the planned roads maintenance budget from £4m to £12m to deal with the potholes caused by the winter weather damage.
For the second year running, the Council will now provide an increase in the classroom supply budget for every school in this city. It is also redirecting £5 million of funding to Social Work Services to protect the city’s most vulnerable children and homeless people. One of Labour Group Leader Bailie Gordon Matheson’s special projects of nurture groups for pre-school children, will have further investment.
Said Matheson,: “We have been leading Scotland with the use of nurture groups to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children in our primary schools. Despite the huge financial challenges facing the council, I want that work to expand. In other areas, we have had to make extra cuts because the Scottish Government has given us less money than they promised.”
The Council will now spend £4m on creating 1000 jobs for the long-term unemployed through the Commonwealth Jobs Fund and the Commonwealth Apprenticeship Initiative for school leavers.
Commented Council Leader Matheson: “This year John Swinney offered Scottish local government a 2.6 per cent funding cut – but threatened to withhold an extra £50m from our city unless we agreed to a list of demands designed to win his party votes in May. He held his gun to Glasgow’s head and showed he was quite prepared to pull the trigger.
“Even though we signed up to his tawdry deal, without drawing breath, Mr Swinney broke his promise to Glasgow and cut our budget by 3.6 per cent anyway – forcing us to find millions in additional savings this year.
“The money we have been given to freeze Council Tax has had little impact on the choices we have had to make. But had we said no to this funding, we would have been punished with retaliatory cuts of an unimaginable scale.”
The council, which has now approved measures to save a total of £58.5m in 2011/12, has already taken steps to reduce spending and deliver services more efficiently.
These steps include:
Setting up a series of Arm’s-Length External Organisations (ALEOs) to run a range of council services including sport and leisure, community safety and IT and property services. This has delivered one-off income of £160 million and recurring annual savings of £23 million
Agreeing to allow more than 2600 staff to leave the council through voluntary redundancy and early retirement over the next three years
Freezing pay for all staff for the next two years
Reducing the number of city centre offices occupied by the Council from 19 to six over the next three years
Since 2008, the Council has saved £11 million from improving attendance at work – £6m in the last nine months alone. Meanwhile, pay for council staff, and councillors, has been frozen for the next two years.
Councillors approved setting a zero rise in the Council Tax rate. The level for B and D properties in 2011/12 will remain at £1,213 (excluding water and sewage charges), which is now unchanged since 2005.
The vast majority of Council Tax payers in Glasgow live in Band A and B properties – next year, their Council Tax payments (excluding water and sewage charges) will be £808.67 and £943.44 respectively.
More information on the budget is available at: www.glasgow.gov.uk/en/YourCouncil/Finance/Budgetproposals/
For more information on the Commonwealth Jobs Fund: www.glasgow.gov.uk/en/Residents/LearningEmployment_Training/CommonwealthJobsFund/
Details of the Commonwealth Apprenticeship Initiative are at: www.glasgow.gov.uk/en/Residents/LearningEmployment_Training/CommonwealthApprenticeshipsInitiative
Budget cuts will make communities bleed. For some it will be the death knell. For others it will be the call to action to stop the life flowing out of their neighbourhood. Most people know next to nothing of what goes on within the City Chambers. So only an alert few were aware of the budget meeting. It is to the credit of the 150 people who quickly assembled outside the building to protest on the day, that they managed to demonstrate at all.
But the dilemma of where the financial belt has to be tightened is not the Council’s alone. The Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) was faced with axing the 500 year old Renfrew Ferry route as it was subsidising each passenger journey by more than £3 a time compared to the £1.20 fare paid.
In that instance, it looks as if an amphibious vehicle which can sail like a boat and drive like a bus could be a 21st century substitute. But at £700,000 per ‘amfibus’ it will be interesting to see how much each passenger fare would need to be to cover the investment and commercial overheads and profit.
When funding for redeveloping wasted areas of the city is costed out over 20 years maybe some similar long-term strategy can be devised to keep community facilities afloat. A general election won’t solve any of the problems but could – perhaps – help local action groups to gather the strength to apply a tourniquet as well as ask piercing questions.
By Erik Geddes
Glasgow’s community centres will bear the brunt of hefty budget cuts after the city announced it has a £61m hole in its finances this year.
There were jeers outside City Chambers as 150 people gathered to protest the cuts in public services, which will mean the closure of 11 community centres, a swimming pool and a community library.
Culture & Sport Glasgow will see its budget fall by some £1.7m.
A number of jobs – the city hopes up to 600 voluntary redundancies – in key areas such as community workers and welfare rights are to be slashed.
Some, but not all sports centres will shut for two half-days a week
Kelvingrove, the Gallery of Modern Art and the Burrell Collection – recognised as Glasgow’s flagship and showcase attractions – will not be affected by the reduced opening hours.
Knightswood Pool and Sighthill Community Library will close. In the east of the city, Bellrock Community and Garthamlock Recreation centres will go. The cuts mean closures of facilities in Cadder, Ledgowan, Wyndford and at Red Road.
In the south-east of the city, Cathkin will close, while Invercraig/West Drumoyne and Lorne Street centres in the south west are also targets.
In the west, Argo Street and Overnewton centres will also close.
The facilities to close are, according to the council, ones ‘which have both low usage and would require substantial funds for essential repairs’.
Nicola Burton, Chair of Save Lorne Street and Secretary of Kinning Park Community Council, was one of the protesters whose community centre is set to close on 31 March.
‘The mothers and toddlers are a massive part of Kinning Park community.
‘If this service is cut and the centre closed it would rip the heart out of Kinning Park.
‘Everyone from Mums and Tots, dance classes to community council meeting take place here.
‘We were not involved in the consultation process at all, I’ve not been able approach anyone from Culture and Sport Glasgow. The fact that they are now considered arms length seems to remove them from responsibility.’
Meanwhile, Glasgow City Council dismissed pressure to cut back on their use fancy cars at ceremonial occasions.
Steven Purcell, Leader of the Council, joked that certain elements of the Scottish Green Party Budget proposals were ‘middle class’, and the sort of things he would hear at a West End dinner party.
The proposal – from Councillor Danny Alderslowe – was to reduce the use of limousines by the council.
It was claimed that £175,000 could be saved by using taxis instead of limos for most journeys.
Councillor Alderslowe said: ‘Limos for councillors are a sheer indulgence during these hard times.’
Despite the Labour-led administration ignoring this proposal, he found reason to be positive with the school gardening projects proposals taken on board.
This will see new beds and fruit trees implemented in all of Glasgow’s ‘additional support for learning’ primary schools.
Speaking exclusively to LOCAL NEWS, Councillor Alderslowe said: ‘They (the Labour lead administration) have taken something from our budget every year for the past three budgets.
‘It’s good to know that they that they are adopting some health and some green issues, even if it’s just on a smaller scale.’
The biggest cheer of the chamber came when City Treasurer Gordon Matheson declared an extra £8m to deal with the pot holes in Glasgow’s roads, taking the total spend to £12m.