Councillors are sometimes unfairly considered as lower down the political pecking order. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. MSPs, MPs, and councillors, do not outrank one another, they provide representation at different levels of government. It is local councillors who are at the coalface, making decisions every day that directly impact our lives and communities.
Done well, that can bring about the sort of change we have seen this week in South Lanarkshire with the council now considering how to provide free sanitary products in schools following discussions between Labour Councillor Lynsey Hamilton and SNP Council Leader, John Ross.
On reflection, it seems remarkable that sanitary products are not already provided free in public toilets, especially in schools, but the issue is now getting the airtime it deserves thanks to cross party work and the efforts of period poverty campaigners like Cllr Hamilton and Central Scotland MSP, Monica Lennon, who has proposed a Member’s Bill in the Scottish Parliament to introduce a free, universal scheme of access to sanitary products.
But, if my time as a councillor has taught me anything it is how challenging it is for local government to continue delivering services and progressive policies with diminishing resources.
The Tories in Westminster have been cutting the Scottish Government’s budget and the SNP in Edinburgh have been passing those cuts straight down to local councils. It cannot be fair that government devolves responsibility for the tough choices to the next tier until eventually councillors are left to do the dirty work.
Being a councillor should mean more than acting as an administrator of government austerity, forced to prioritise one vital service over another with both hands tied behind your back.
The UK and Scottish governments must take the funding of local services seriously and local authorities must reach out beyond the council chamber to give more power to communities by involving them in spending decisions. I hope this idea will feature in the upcoming Rutherglen Central and North by-election.
It offers a perfect opportunity for the SNP administration to flesh out details of their pledge to devolve 1% of the budget, approximately £1 million, to every ward for local priorities and projects. This is likely to achieve support across all political parties and I am sure local people will be keen to hear about how this pledge will be met.
Lastly, I wish all candidates well for a comradely campaign and I wish my successor all the best for the future.