By Alieu Ceesay
The election season is upon us with one of the first hustings being Govanhill and Crosshill Community Council`s event on Monday16 April at Samaritan House in Coplaw Street.
Prospective candidates – aiming for one of the four seats in Southside Central ward – were quizzed by the public. Among the issues raised were social care, crime, privatising of council services, fuel poverty, benefits and the local economy.
The meeting was chaired by Iain MacInnes the Community Council`s Secretary, who called on the candidates to fight for the local community and to oppose all forms of privatisation in the city. He said: ‘There is a national debt but the austerity crisis is contrived. The need for the punitive, austerity measures being imposed on communities across the country, is a fallacy.’ He also questioned why so few resisted the ‘unsound, illogical economic orthodoxy.’
Moira Crawford, Green Party candidate, said that if elected on Thursday 3 May she would campaign for a city-owned energy company which would sell its surplus to the National Grid and use it to improve the City’s housing for the benefit of people. She also promised to work with residents and community organisations.
Labour Candidate Dr Soryia Siddique said she would fight for the building and refurbishment of local primary schools and the provision of up to five months of additional care for all three years olds as well as the creation of 1000 jobs each year for young people.
Anne Marie Millar has served the area as a Labour councillor for nine years and is now standing as an Independent candidate. She claimed her efforts achieved an investment of £13 million in housing for Govanhill. She promised to continue to work with residents, community organisations and the police to make neighbourhoods and streets safer and address knife crime and domestic violence; anti social behaviour and the regulation of private landlords. Although the crime rate has fallen the fear of crime still remains, she said.
Jahangir Hanif, SNP, who is seeking re-election to the Council, said it was time for regime change at the City Chambers. He pointed to the SNP’s successful campaign which halved the cost of chauffeured cars for councillors. He berated Labour’s record on ‘the state of our roads’ and was sure his party, ‘as the new majority,’ would do much better on infrastructure.
He added: ‘We will be campaigning to keep council tax frozen to help hard pressed households and for the council to do more to help local businesses create new jobs for young people.’
Robert McIlroy, Conservative, who is standing in Newlands and Auldburn ward represented local candidate Thomas Connor. The Conservative party would fight for weekly bin collections instead of fortnightly ones. ‘Waste must not be left uncollected for a long time,’ he said. He also advocated investment in roads and pavements.
William Bonnor, Scottish Socialist Party, emphasised the democratic accountability of the Council. ‘Local people should be consulted on the issues affecting them,’ he contended.
David Jago, Liberal Democrat, said rules must be enforced to ensure that private landlords are better regulated. In addition, he called for more money for housing.
Gavin Mc Nae, local resident, highlighted that none of the candidates had given recognition to the Community Council for mounting a sustained campaign on slum housing in the area.
Iain MacInnes told this reporter that it was the Community Council’s efforts that led to the Scottish Government taking notice of the dire housing problem. In March 2010, Housing and Communities Minister, Alex Neil said ‘hit squads’ could be set up to tackle Govanhill’s poverty and housing issues. Iain said: ‘this was translated into a ‘task force’ by Labour’s then Councillor, Anne Marie Millar. Through that, a hub was created to coordinate acute housing problems. But this put the issue into the doldrums. After being treated as a political football, the hub seems to be back on track.’
Iain said that the Community Council would continue to: ‘Campaign on housing in particular and on other relevant issues brought to our notice.’
One person asked if the panel would join him in opposing the current care ‘personalisation’ plans being presented as choice when, in reality, they were being used, cynically, to create cuts to services for vulnerable people and their families.
A question relating to the Commonwealth Games was: ‘How do the candidates feel about Glasgow hosting the ‘public relations’ front line for some of the countries which have abysmal human rights records?’
A member of the public said that money could be saved by abandoning the opening and closing ceremonies at the Commonwealth Games. ‘The money could be used to reinstate services cut by the Council. She went on: ‘The ‘Games are really about land deals and building contracts; there is little by way of a sustainable legacy for the people of Glasgow.’
Strident efforts by Crosshill/Govanhill Community Council have galvanised local agencies and finally delivered £1.8 million from the Scottish Government to revitalise the neighbourhood and get rid of slums and slum landlords. The plan was announced by Nicola Sturgeon Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing at Govanhill Housing Association’s headquarters on Friday 18 June.
Backcourt refurbishment and design will be done by local people who will gain skills and jobs from the tasks. And a property acquisition strategy by Glasgow City Council and Govanhill Housing Association will enable them to secure neglected or unsafe buildings. A multi-agency ‘hit squad’
will crack down on unregistered landlords and be able to enforce environmental health laws.
Speaking in the ‘hub’ where the hit squad has been pioneering the joint working techniques, the Minister said: ‘Govanhill has shown that people are willing to get to grips with the problems. The Community Council in its first public meeting some years ago, put the agencies on the spot and galvanised them to work together. Since then, together, the Housing Association, Police, Environmental Health, Community Health and all the other agencies have worked hard to find ways to re-act quickly to address the problems. This funding will help breathe new life into Govanhill.’
Rogue landlords who ‘traded in misery,’ will be pursued. The Housing Bill currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament, will strengthen existing powers for local authorities to oblige owners to look after their properties. And the landlord registration system will be improved, dramatically.
Gordon Matheson, Leader of Glasgow City Council said: ‘Considerable progress has already been made in the way the Council and all the partners respond to Govanhill’s problems with significent resources directed towards the area, particularly in relation to housing.’
Afterwards the Minister told the LOCAL NEWS GLASGOW: ‘People in Govanhill are not unique in having these problems. But the extent and concentration of them is on a scale not experienced in other places. The integrated approach is having a real impact. The early signs are good and this could be rolled out to other areas.’ She added: ‘Community Councils are a vital resource. In this area they forced the action.’
Part of the plan is that any landlord operating a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO) without a licence – a criminal offence – faces a maximum penalty of £5,000. Next year, changes to legislation will increase the fine to £20,000.
In May, Govanhill Housing Association petitioned the Scottish Parliament to highlight the worst of the problems and offer solutions. The Association submitted a proposal for an employability programme linked to the environmental sustainability of Govanhill. This has attracted £1.5 million over the next two years. It will enable unemployed people to be trained and given jobs which will improve the environment and fabric of the neighbourhood.
An enforcement team will strengthen the Council’s existing powers by reporting unregistered landlords to the Procurator Fiscal so suspending a tenant’s liability to pay rent. Where the landlord is found to be not fit and proper, registration will be refused. The ‘hub’ where the multi-agency approach is based, is within the Govanhill Housing Association premises and attracts £300,000 of the committed funding.
Glasgow Shettleston MSP Frank McAveety, who was present for the announcement, welcomed the measures. He said: ‘I led a delegation of MSPs who visited Govanhill and met local housing groups to discuss the particular housing challenges that this area presents. We then organised a special evidence session for the Housing Minister as a result of a petition to the Scottish Parliament submitted by residents. I am pleased that these residents have now been listened to.’
Newly elected Glasgow Central MP, Anas Sarwar added: ‘I welcome this much-needed funding which has been released following a period of concerted pressure from Govanhill residents and from local Labour Councillors and MSPs. Govanhill already receives £3 million of capital spending from Glasgow City Council to tackle problem housing and today’s cash boost will complement this – but it’s still a drop in the ocean compared to what Govanhill needs. I would like to see the Scottish Government match Glasgow City Council’s spending pound for pound.’
A report by Govanhill Housing Association to the Parliament’s Petitions Committee showed that £187 million was needed to restore almost 2000 homes to a tolerable standard.
Association Director, Anne Lear commented: ‘We are delighted at this Government recognition of the issues in this community. We really look forward to working with all our partners including Glasgow South East Regeneration Agency (GSERA), the Law Centre and Oxfam. The funding will provide local employment opportunities and will make a real difference to the area.’