Local Election Q&A

This post answers some questions which have been raised in feedback to a short YouTube interview which I did as part of a series of interviews with council candidates for Clydesdale East. Obviously as the interview time was limited it was not possible to cover every issue, and the agenda was set by the interviewer, so I thought it would be useful to respond to some questions which have been raised by members of the public,

No mention of roads, infrastructure, housing, council tax, care services.
Even in a blog there’s not much space to discuss all of these things in detail. However some key points are:

Infrastructure: I support development of local infrastructure such as high speed broadband and the re-opening of Symington station, although these things are not completely within the council’s gift, but I would certainly push SLC to work with Scottish Government and other relevant organisations to make them happen.

Roads: We need to keep roads in good repair, but I do not favour large road-building projects as the money would be better spend on public transport (see infrastructure).

Care services: Greens welcome the better integration of council and NHS responsibilities that has started to happen, but recognise that there is more than could be done to ensure that councils and the NHS work closely. Greens are campaigning for a “living wage plus” for carers to ensure that good staff are attracted to this important role.

Council Tax: Council tax in the medium term Greens would like to see it replaced with a fairer system based on the sale value of land because the council tax become outdated is it is based on the value of property in 1995, so does not reflect changes in land value or changes to a property since then. We support the council tax increase for the higher council tax bands that Scottish Government brought in this year, and are disappointed that SLC did not decide to increase council tax for the lower bands to protect public services as most other Scottish councils did. In the Scottish budget, Green MSPs also secured additional funding from Scottish Government for councils by not passing on the cuts to the top rate of income tax which the UK Government implemented.

What would make electing the only person that seems to make up the Green Party in this area as she is the only person that is ever heard from?
The Scottish Green Party has enjoyed an enormous expansion in recent years both locally and nationally. Members of the local branch taken on a variety of roles – not all are public facing. I think it is preferable for the public to have the chance to vote for someone who has a track record of working in their community than someone they have never heard of who pops up just before an election.

The Scottish Greens are standing candidates in almost all wards in South Lanarkshire, including all of the Clydesdale wards. For a number of reason we really feel that this year we have a good chance of getting several Green Councillors elected to South Lanarkshire Council. The make up of the new council is likely to be one in which no party has overall control, which means that the big parties are more likely to work with smaller parties than to ignore them. Minority  groups of Green Councillors elected to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Midlothian and Aberdeen council in 2012 have been able to have a significant influence on council policy in those areas.

What about planning, places are being built on that shouldn’t be?
Planning is guided by the Local Plan. SLC are currently consulting on a new Local Plan and I would strongly recommend that the public respond to this before the consultation closes on 12th May. The Local Plan sets the framework for planning decisions, and it is much harder to object to an unwelcome development if it has been agreed in the Local Plan. I have read through the plan and will be responding to this myself.

More widely, the Scottish Greens are keen to see communities’ views being given more weight in planning matters to avoid situations like the Overburns Quarry saga where a developer is trying to grind down community opposition by making repeated application for more or less the same thing. The Green MSPs are pushing Scottish Government to re-balance the planing system so that communities and developers have equal rights to appeal and repeated applications for the same development would not be allowed.

Mention is made of creating local jobs through this industry, how many have been created and employment for true locals?
Across Scotland the renewables sector employs 58,000 people directly, and supports more jobs indirectly. I don’t have a figure to hand for South Lanarkshire or Clydesdale more specifically, however it is likely to be several thousand. A good proportion of these will be people born and bred in the area in roles including civil engineering, site management, environmental assessment and design.

How much income is going into the tourist industry via this industry that is being claimed?
I don’t have figures, but anecdotally a number of local B&Bs and hotels get a good deal of business from the renewables industry.

Where is the cheap electricity when people struggle to heat their homes from essentially a natural resource that is free once initial investment of cost of building these monsters is paid for and maintaining wages etc.
Wind is a cheap source of power when all of the costs involved as considered. Nuclear power has huge build and decommissioning costs, and means that the nuclear waste which is produced has to be stored safely for every.

Fossil fuel as power source can also have huge costs associated with decommissioning and cleanup. The open fiasco of abandoned opencast coal sites which Scottish Coal has walked away from means that all council tax payer will have to pick up the bill for in-instating these sites. The Stern Report produced by the UK Government highlighted the high costs which will be incurred from having to deal with climate change if we do not reduce fossil fuel usage.

Greens would like to see much higher standards for house insulation and energy efficiency. We want all rented property to be well insulated, so that tenants as well as owner-occupiers have easy to heat, warm homes.

I’d rather see a field of solar panels than any more windmills.
I agree that solar power has a role to play and can be useful even in Scotland. We need a mix of renewables to supply the power we need.

Is the windmills that are on the road approaches from Carstairs to Lanark or Carluke to Lanark really enhancing the countryside? Who is benefitting from those, certainly not the community!
How people view wind turbines is largely a matter of personal opinion, and we have to remember that almost all of Scotland’s landscape is shaped by various human activities. Of course individual turbines need to be carefully sited, which is something which can be addressed through the planning system.

With regard to benefits which windfarms provide for the community, we would like to see more community and council ownership of renewables, because at present too much of the profit does go to private landowners and company shareholders (although this is the same for other forms of energy too). Local wind energy co-operatives such as the Spirit of Lanarkshire Wind Energy Co-operative which has a local membership and owns turbines in the Nutberry and West Browncastle windfarms are the sort of thing we would like to encourage.

What about the real traditional farms/ers that make up this ward, not sure there was any mention there?
I am not aware of there being any unreal farmers in this ward! As I mentioned in the interview most agricultural policy is dealt with my Holyrood. However as I said, these are very uncertain times for farmers, as Brexit will mean the end of CAP payments, and the UK Government seems likely to keep much of the budget for other uses. I will push the council to what in can to support farmers, including providing business advice and buying procedure products for its catering operations.

Same old mantra when asked how she could be contacted, no real new ideas there then! Councillor surgeries, more of the same and hardly anyone attends them!
I agree that councillor surgeries aren’t the only way in which councillors can be contacted, which is why I also said that I can be contacted by email and on social media, and as a councillor would organise community meetings on specific issues.

What about the Gillespie Centre in Biggar?
The Gillespie Centre is run by a community group, not the council, so this is not directly an issue for the council. I know there has been some discussion recently about recent changes to their charging structure, but as I was unable to attend the AGM, so I have not seen the full accounts. I do, however greatly appreciate the hard work which the Gillespie Centre volunteers put into running this facility for the benefit of the community.

If elected would this candidate prop up Labour to keep them in control of the council?
Green Councillors will work with other parties to get the best they can for this area. In other councils where Greens have councillors they have not formed coalitions with other parties, as this has given them more freedom to work with a range of parties on a range of issues.

What about the cost of dying in South Lanarkshire? Burial plots in 1995 were £95.00 now they are over £1k!
This is not an issue which I have a detailed knowledge of. However, if elected I will review how SLC’s burial charges compare to those of other councils in Scotland.

A feel this is like the wording of an old joke like the light bulb joke: “how many bins does it take to get all you’re rubbish taken away in South Lanarkshire?” 4 just now and that’s if they are emptied with more to come, really!
The new bin system has been introduced to increase the amount of waste which is recycled, which is something I fully support. I know there were some issues with delivering the bins, but they seem to have been sorted out now.

Bins and recycling is an important part of how we deal with our waste, but we also need to reduce the amount of waste which is produced in the first place, and I would like to see SLC being more proactive in working with householders and local businesses to reduce waste or reuse waste items.

When will services for the people be left local instead of being centralised?
Greens very much favour services being provided as locally as possible, although we recognise that some very specialised services need to be located in a limited number of locations (it would be a waste of money to provide every cottage hospital with a brain scanner!).

Locally, Greens have raised concerns about things like the removal of some social work and planning functions from Lanark. I’m also concerned that things like youth mental health services are in Carluke which is far too far for a young person to have to travel. We also do not feel that Police Scotland has been effective, and favour a more local approach to policing which better reflects the needs to communities.

As I councillor I will stand up for local services in this area, and push to improve them rather than trying to centralise them in Hamilton or the cities.

What about school (and road) lights left on to burn 24/7?
The recent installation of LED lights has reduced the energy consumption and cost of street lighting. However, I agree that there is no need for streetlights being left on 24/7 and would favour them being switched off between midnight and 5 am in most areas.

Who’s paying for all the new schools? I agree, not all the schools required to be replaced.
Sadly we all are because the new High Schools were built using PFI schemes which are extremely expensive ways for councils to get money. The primary schools have been built with council money which will be much cheaper in the long term.

What does Biggar and surrounding areas – yes they exist, get from business rates or other income the council has to share out between the wards?
Business rates help to provide services which businesses need. These include road maintenance, maintenance of public spaces, business advice, and an educated workforce.

Scottish parliament have passed a lot of laws that effect everyone but hardly any mention there either.
As you state laws are passed by MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, not by councillors, which is why I, as a council candidate, have not commented on this.

I wonder if the candidate has a clue on what a councillor should be doing! Writing letters to a paper for exposure is totally different in reality of being a day to day councillor!
Absolutely! Councillors fulfill a number of functions including representing community views to the council, helping to shape council policy, deciding on planning matters (if on the planning committee) and scrutinising council activity. I know several current Green councillors on other councils well, and so have a good understanding of what they do.

Where does the candidate stand: is the council run by the councillors or by the officials?
Council officials are responsible for the day to day running of the council. However councillors help to develop the policy directions which steer their work and provide oversight of the running of the council.

Would she abstain in votes if elected?
I would not generally abstain in council votes, unless insufficient information available on which to make a decision.

What about the public houses that have been all but decimated by smoking ban and other burdensome nonsense?
Many public houses in Clydesdale are thriving. Biggar has four lively pubs (the Clydesdale Hotel closed well before the smoking ban), and local pubs from the Hopetoun Arms in Leadhills to the Roberton Arms in Carnwath are doing well.

The smoking ban has brought health benefits which are to be welcomed.

What else is on offer apart from wind farms, they are not the be all and end all! What other sources of income can be tapped into for the benefit of all locally?
South Lanarkshire Council could do much more to promote the tourist industry in Clydesdale. At present it is not a member of Visit Scotland because it does not regard tourism as a priority, which means that tourism in this area does not benefit from the marketing expertise of Visit Scotland. There is particular scope for “active tourism” promoting cycling, walking, angling, canoeing and other outdoor activities in the area. Projects like the Upper Tweed Railway Paths cycleway and an extension of the Pentlands Regional Park into Clydesdale could help in this respect, as well as better promotion of the Southern Uplands Way.

Agricultural and tourism is also important, and I think there is scope to add more value to the food we produce by processing more of it locally to add value.

Faster rural broadband would allow the IT sector to develop further locally, and there could be scope for using locally generated energy topower energy-hungry enterprises such as server farms and manufacturing.

I would also like to see Carstairs Junction regain some of its former role as a transport hub with better train services southbound, and improved bus links to the surrounding area. It is a pity that no company submitted an acceptable bid when SPT recently tendered for a bus service between Biggar, Carstairs and Carnwath, and I would like to explore whether a community owned service could fill this gap.

Public toilets, what happened to them if one needs to spend a penny?
Biggar is fortunate that it’s public toilets have been saved by the action of a community group, who have been able to access some funding which would not have been available to the council, and have therefore been able to change some aspects of their operation to save costs.

There have been plenty of groups established over the years to consult with, however, when there is a power hungry dominated one party council, they are a waste of time. I guess that would be the same voting Greens!
No, Greens really believe that power should be put back into the hands of local communities. This is a key part of Green ideas which are based on the concept of “act local, think global”. Green councillors on other councils such as Edinburgh and Midlothian have been instrumental in pushing for consultations with communities to be listened to and not treated as “box ticking” exercises, and Green councillors in South Lanarkshire would do the same.

Why did the Greens prop up for a second referendum vote?
Independence is not something which councils can influence. However, Greens believe that power should be devolved to as local a level as possible, and therefore we want to power moved from Westminster to Holyrood, but we do not believe that power should be centralised in Holyrood. Rather we want to see local communities be given much more power to make decisions which affect them.

The candidate was dry mouthed and that was without any potential constituents sitting in front of her, how well would she cope in council chamber if elected?
Jings! That must the first time I’ve ever been accused of having nothing to say! Dry mouthed I was certainly not!  What was supposed to be a 15 minute interview ran to 20 mins as it was! I am certainly not intimidated by public speaking or presenting information, as these are things I do routinely professionally. I also have a good deal of experience of speaking in political meetings and debates.

What cuts does she agree with and what cuts does she not?
Cuts I would agree with: street lighting – savings are already being made by introducing LED lights, and this should be rolled out further; council expenditure on “hospitality” and building big road infrastructure. Re-negotiating the PFI deals on the new High Schools which could bring large savings. In addition, there is scope for the council to do more to generate income from renewables on its buildings (most new primary schools do include solar panels, but far more council buildings could have them).

I would prefer more funding to more cuts (and yes that means people paying tax to get the services we all need). Cuts I don’t agree with include social care, education (especially special needs support), and public transport.

What about the elderly and young people? How should we enrich their lives and provide services for them? An interactive park perhaps for the youngsters? Better at home services for the elderly and vulnerable?
On services for young people, I’ve already mentioned education and youth mental health services. With regard to parks I chair Friends of Burnbraes Park which I founded and has put approximately £75.000 of play equipment into the park in the last 10 years as a result for grant funding and donations. I’ve also helped successful park groups to set up in Lanark, Leadhills, and Rigside.

For older and disabled people, high quality care at home should be a priority. I’ve already mentioned the Scottish Greens’ “minimum wage plus” proposal for carers to attract and keep talented carers. Carers should also be paid for their travel time between visits and given more discretion about the time they need for a visit.

No mention of the disgrace of a few new council houses for the thousands that are waiting with no real hope of being housed?
Greens are strongly in favour of more publicly owned social housing, and rent controls on private rented housing. Although demand for housing acute is less in Clydesdale than in other parts of South Lanarkshire we fully support SLC’s plans to build more council houses, and would like to see this programme expanded. I will work to ensure that Clydesdale gets its fair share of these new council houses.

No mention of knocking housing stock down because no one wanted them, really?
I think this question refers to council houses in Carstairs Junction which SLC plans to demolish. I know that the decline of rail services from the Junction has meant that it is a less attractive place to live than it once was. Services to Edinburgh and Glasgow have improved in recent years, and I will push for further expansion of services. I would also like to see more southbound services from the Junction as at the moment the sleeper is the only service to and from the south which stops there.

With regard to SLC’s plans to demolish houses at the Junction, I believe that there are serious structural issues with these properties, and although I have not seen the full structural surveys on them, cracks are certainly evident on the outside. Social housing should not be sub-standard housing. I would strongly favour these sites being used for more social and affordable housing.

Mention is made of a councillor who does not live in the ward they represent and they have their main residence elsewhere but keeps a flat in Biggar.
This a topic which the interviewer introduced, and I don’t think it was a particularly useful line. I do think that councillors who spend most of their time in their ward are more effective than those whose do not, although anyone who lives, works or owns property in a local authority area are allowed to stand for election in any ward of that authority. Out of fairness to the outgoing councillor concerned I felt that I had to correct a couple of factual errors in the interviewer’s statement.

Will the candidate be giving up the day job for the 24/7 councillor role?
Yes. Being a councillor is a full time job and councillors are paid to do it. I absolutely believe that councillors (and other elected politicians for that matter) should do the job that they have been elected to do and not take on other paid employment at the same time.

I’d like to know whether it’s ok to knock down cyclists if they are not wearing hiviz claes? It seems to be a big thing in Biggar and the surrounding roads where there are busy people in cars with poor eyesight.
I think road safety is a two-way thing. It does seems sensible for cyclists and walkers on rural roads to take what steps they can to make themselves as safe as possible, including wearing brightly coloured colouring and using bright lights.

However there are some drivers who drive with no consideration of walkers and cyclists, which is why Greens favour “presumed liability” in traffic accidents involving motorists and walkers/cyclists. Presumed liability means that the driver of the more potentially lethal vehicle has a duty to take greatest care, and will be presumed to have caused any accident unless it can be proved that the cyclist or walker is at fault. This would prevent “I didn’t see you” being used as an excuse for a cycle/car collision unless it could be proved that e.g a cyclist pulled out of a turning in front of a car without warning. Councils can’t introduce presumed liability laws, but the Green MSPs at Holyrood are pushing for this.

What councils can do is raise awareness of road safety issues, and greater awareness of cyclist/car issues is something which I think is needed in Clydesdale, and which I would be pushing for SLC to address with communication to both cyclists and drivers. Possibly we could pick up some good practice ideas by talking to Borders Council given the focus on cycling around the Peebles/Glentress area.

I suppose the costs involved with creating cycle tracks, which would keep everyone safer, are just too expensive to contemplate?
Cycle tracks are expensive, but SLC do have a Cycling Strategy which does include some cycle path creation.

There are also local groups such as the Upper Tweed Railway Paths group which are involved in cycle path development and are using grant funding to achieve this the Upper Tweed Railway Paths current focus is on linking Peebles to Broughton and Tweedmuir along old railway tracks, but their ultimate aim is to use old track to link right through to the Clyde walkway in Lanark.

It’s never going to be cost effective to put cycle path along all rural roads though, so there is an onus on drivers to be more aware of cyclists.

Don’t you think that Brexit will affect the locality?
Brexit will have huge implications for the agricultural sector in particular. In the main this will be something which the Scottish Government rather than the council will have to deal with. From the noises coming out of London it seems unlikely that any future support for farmers will be much less than current CAP payments as the Treasury wants to hang on to as much money as it can.

Although in many ways CAP isn’t the EU’s finest policy, and it has sometimes prevented more sustainable farming, there is no evidence that removal of subsidies/support will be beneficial to either the rural communities or the environment. When agricultural subsidies were removed in New Zealand a few years ago it lead to an intensification of farming, with small family farms being bought-out by larger concerns, and increase in pesticide usage and loss of biodiversity.

As I said in the interview the council’s ability to influence this is limited, but it could help provide support and advice through things like the Business Gateway (although that it itself is partly funded by EU structural funds).

As well as agriculture the EU does provide funding for rural development through structural funds and the LEADER grant scheme. Again it is a huge worry that this funding could be lost to our area, although there is a limited about which the council can do about it as this falls within the remit of Scottish and UK Government.

Brexit could also affect council procurement policies, workplace protection etc, and if elected I would push the council to give commitments what working conditions for its staff will not deteriorate as a result of Brexit, and that responsible procurement procedures will be maintained. One small upside which I mentioned is that Brexit might allow councils to buy more local products, although actually I think that they could do more already if they were a bit more ambitious.

More details of the Scottish Green Party priorities for the 2017 council elections can be found in the Local Election Manifesto – Power in Your Hands.