What Challenges and Opportunities Should the City of Edinburgh Council be Aware of?

The Lothians Branch of the Scottish Socialist Party is submitting to the consultation because we believe that the economic strategy of the City of Edinburgh Council is resulting in a deterioration of the conditions of working people in our capital. The current and previous Labour/SNP/Lib Dem administrations have implemented ruthless and widespread cuts that leave our public services in crisis and a chronic shortage of affordable housing. Instead of perpetuating the low wage, high bills attacks on working people, the council should consider the changes we propose to raise funds and better the conditions of workers in Edinburgh.

Replacing the Council Tax

We call for the immediate replacement of the Council Tax with a means based alternative, the Scottish Service Tax. The Council Tax is an outdated and unjust tax that disproportionately targets low income families. Government freezes and Council plans to tweak the payments will not address the fundamental flaw – it does not assess the person’s ability to pay. Instead, the Council Tax crudely demands payment based on your address using bands set in 1991. The difference in payment from the highest to lowest band is 3:1, yet the wealthiest residents in Edinburgh are far more than three times richer than the workers we petition on behalf of.

The Scottish Service Tax is a thought out and costed bill that the SSP developed a decade ago. Based on the principle of progressive taxation, the Scottish Service Tax proposes a rising scale of tax bands based on income. Therefore, people pay what they can afford. Academics at the Paisley Business School estimate that these changes would raise upwards of £4billion annually if implemented nationally. With Edinburgh being the wealthiest city in Scotland, the Council will begin to raise the significant funds needed for public sector investment.

An example of the annual earnings bands:
£0-£10,000 – zero%
£10k – £30,000: 4.5%
£30k – £40,000: 15%
£40k – £50,000: 18%
£50k – £90,000: 21%
£90k and above: 23%

Tackling Poverty Pay

The City of Edinburgh Council should implement a £10/hour Living Wage for all Council workers and put pressure on businesses in the city to do the same. According to the Government, a person needs to earn £10/hour to pay their own way- as that’s the wage you need to earn before you stop qualifying for top-up benefits like housing benefit, tax credits and free school meals. The current national minimum wage of £7.50 (for those over 25) and the Council’s minimum pay rate of just over £8, combined with insecure employment, leaves people in poverty. This branch includes Edinburgh Council workers who earn less than £10/h with no opportunities for full time hours and can testify that it results in fuel poverty and workers having to take up multiple jobs to get by. Poverty pay is having a serious effect on the health of council employees and the quality of service that the council is able to provide. It is affecting crucial services like education and support for homelessness and means that workers are often unable to stay in the job for long – further increasing costs for the council.

The SSP also calls for the council to support legislation for a £10/h Living Wage for private employers in our city. Edinburgh is dominated by multinational corporations who pay slave wages and abuse Zero-Hours Contracts. Retail, hospitality, call centre, admin and care workers are some of the worst affected. Edinburgh’s Summer and Winter festivals and pop-up events are opportunities for private individuals to make millions on the back of low pay and insecure employment- especially using young workers who don’t even qualify for the pitiful £7.50 min wage. We can see this is a wealthy city, we are working hard and accept the sacrifices of sharing a city with millions of tourists. Yet we don’t feel that wealth with the high cost of living and the poverty pay. The Council’s support for exploitative employers has led to profits from Edinburgh’s assets being siphoned away. A £10/h living wage will boost spending by keeping more of the profits in the pockets of the people who work hard to keep our city going. If profiteering multinationals don’t want to step up and pay a fair wage, then we should support local businesses who will.

Building Council Houses

The SSP demands the immediate increase of the Council’s housing stock to provide state owned, affordable housing to meet the current need. Most homes that are built in Edinburgh are private apartment complexes that inevitably end up in the hands of buy-to-let landlords, many of whom have little affiliation to our city or Scotland. Tenants are forced into a low-quality market with inflated rents because of the number of landlords looking to buy. Edinburgh is at breaking point in the demand for low-cost housing and for most young people, owning a home in this city is fantasy. Private tenants are the most likely Scots to be in fuel poverty – caused by sky-high rents and bills and low pay. Housing is a need that the council should provide for. We welcome the council’s recent investigations into rent controls but current proposals under the Housing Act (2015) will not prevent rent increases, nor do they prevent landlords hiking up rents in-between tenancies and do not sufficiently protect tenants from eviction. Tenants should be empowered to stay in their homes until they decide to leave. Radical rent controls should be implemented to reduce rents and depreciate house prices to aid in the council’s acquisition of stock.

There are thousands of people waiting on council houses; yet the Council built 32 council houses in 2016. 10,000 council houses need to be in Edinburgh in a 6-year period to meet our assessment of the National housing crisis and targets to meet demand. Council houses need to be built to the highest environmental standard and have a front and back door. An ambitious building project will create thousands of skilled jobs, regenerate our communities and reinvigorate economies outside the city centre.

For a No Cuts Budget

The City of Edinburgh Council must stand up for Edinburgh’s working class majority by defying the austerity attacks from Conservatives in Westminster, being implemented through Holyrood. The Council’s marketing boast of ‘efficiency’ savings which in reality represent thousands of job losses and critically poor public services. The Scottish Socialist Party believes that Instead of offering false ‘choices’ between cutting local schools or community facilities, teachers’ jobs or street cleaning, elected councillors should be initiating genuine forums where People’s Budgets could be debated, based on local needs and priorities. Underpinned by an expansion of funding from central government, rather than annual cuts. We can use democratic tools to force a reverse in the national economic policy that is harming our city.

If you would like to support the SSP’s submission, then you can take part in the City of Edinburgh Council’s consultation.

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Open Letter to Labour’s new Scottish leader Richard Leonard MSP

Dear Richard,

Congratulations on your election as Scottish Labour leader. We hope your victory heralds a new age in Scottish politics. Whilst we disagree with Labour on many things – Independence, failure to repeal anti union laws , sending in Sheriff officers to humiliate working people during the poll tax struggle, the war in Iraq, the use of PFI contracts in privatising our NHS and education services, attacking the benefits of single parents – in recognition of the fact that your election represents a break with past policies we would like to suggest we work together to tackle the poverty pay, insecure work, soaring housing costs and falling living standards working class people suffer every day.

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Clarity Needed to Reverse Indy Retreat

by Hugh Cullen

Opinion polls taken since the 2014 Referendum paint a picture of support for a second referendum on independence slowly trickling away. Polls don’t tell the whole story but they correlate with what we are seeing on the ground; formerly active and vibrant Yes groups have either folded, become social gatherings or are dominated by nationalism detached from reality.

Comparing the SNP of late 2014/15, buoyed by 100,000 new members and electoral domination, to today seems like day and night. The Nationalists have paid a huge price for not making the case for Independence at any election since the referendum – and allowing themselves to be chased away from the issue by the Unionists.

The 2014 Yes campaign found strength in its diversity. A majority of Yes supporters weren’t SNP and the non-tribal Yes coalition helped reach a diverse audience.

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Social care must be a right for all

by Natalie Reid

It’s no secret that social care funding is in crisis, in Scotland and across the UK as a whole.

Inevitably, this has led to inequality in social care provision, meaning only those who can afford it can be guaranteed the high standards of care we all deserve; whether it’s later in life or throughout our lifetime.

And this gaping inequality is only going to get worse.

According to Professor June Andrews, former director of the Dementia Services Development Centre at Stirling University, unless the current system of funding changes we will see “fabulous care for the rich, decent care that strips your family wealth for the affluent middle, and something unpleasant for those at the mercy of the future state”.

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Standing for top-quality housing

by Bill Bonnar

The Scottish Socialist Party believes that the only way to tackle Scotland’s housing crisis and to meet the long term housing needs of the people of Scotland is through a massive expansion of social housing.

Decades of government cuts in housing support to local authorities, combined with the fiscally ruinous right-to-buy policy, and a host of other capitalist measures have driven people into mortgage-based home ownership and the private rented sector. This has condemned hundreds of thousands of families to life sentences served out in dilapidated housing schemes.

Only by reversing these trends can we resolve the problems. The private sector has never been a solution; it is a large part of the problem. If we were to sum up the SSP’s approach to housing policy, it would be:

Housing is a social need and should not be a source of profit.

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A functioning democracy needs a Real Free Press

by Ken Ferguson

The media is in crisis, both globally and locally.

Around the world we have seen the collapse of numbers working as professional journalists. Politics, business and institutions are as a result at historically low levels of public oversight; corruption and plutocracy go unreported.

In Scotland, this is compounded by a clear disconnect between positions taken by media organisations and the views of a substantial portion of the population who feel that they are not represented, and that information the public is given is systematically biased on key issues in Scottish politics.

The roots of the worldwide crisis in journalism lie in two factors.

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Advancing Social Security Workshop

Last Saturday, Dundee SSP held a day school workshop – with Colin Turbett, an SSP social security expert with decades of experience in social work.

colin_turbett_augustineOn welcome to the branch, Mr Turbett said: “The limitations of the Scottish Government’s devolved social security reforms were shown earlier this month when the Tories benefit cap came into operation. This discriminates against large families claiming benefit by limiting the total they can claim (including housing benefit for rent) to £20,000 per year.

“In my own area, North Ayrshire, which has the second highest levels of child poverty in Scotland, this will hit 200 families and make life even harder for all the children involved. Consultation submissions on the devolved budgets and how they might be used, are currently being considered by the Scottish Government before firm proposals are drawn up; these however will only affect 15% of benefits spending (out of work benefits, tax credits and pensions remain with Westminster) and all these children in poverty will not be touched because they are not included.

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Close The Obscene Gap: for a £10 minimum and a maximum wage

richieby Richie Venton, SSP national trade union organizer

The gaping chasm between the incomes of millions of workers and handfuls of millionaire company chief executives is opening up ever wider, like the blades of a giant pair of scissors.

The case I expounded in my book, Break the Chains, for an immediate national minimum wage of £10-an-hour for all workers – regardless of age – and a maximum wage initially based on an overly generous 10:1 differential with the minimum (i.e. £100-an-hour maximum) screams out from every page of every recent report on workers’ wages and bosses’ incomes.

The top dogs of the FTSE 100 biggest companies have just had yet another 10% pay rise – and that’s before they rake in untold bonuses, shares portfolios, and bottomless pension pots. Since the 2010 recession, these capitalist overlords have had their salaries increase by a third! They now wallow like pigs in the proverbial, on average incomes of £5.5million!

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