There’s a long-running joke that the machinations of Glasgow Labour, whose grip over the city is now into its thirty-third consecutive year, would put any tinpot dictator to shame. Corruption scandals, gangland links, backhanders, internal warfare and cronyism accusations come and go, and they come frequently, yet the party remains unshaken, powering ahead with their decades long project to turn Glasgow into an amalgam of motorways, “retail opportunities” and showpiece junkets
And they show no sign of letting up. As we’d advertised at the foot of our piece last week on the regeneration of the “new” east end, in which we asked who the real beneficiaries of these efforts are, last night was supposed to have seen a public meeting on “housing in crisis” take place in the Bridgeton Community Learning Campus (BCLC) in the east of the city. The Games Monitor 2014 group had been building this for a couple of weeks, flyering and postering around the east end and aiming to initiate a discussion around housing issues in light of the mass investment in the Commonwealth Games in the area.
It didn’t go ahead. Last Thursday, an email dropped into their inbox: the Board of Directors of the BCLC had decided that the meeting did “not fit the criteria” for an event in the venue. In any case, the centre manager added that they had “had no complaints or concerns in regards to a housing crisis” and if they did, they would be seeking to address them with “without creating unnecessary unrest.” The line had been laid down: this was an overtly political room cancellation and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
The east end’s arbiters of what constitutes a “crisis” had made a decision that there was no crisis, and to even meet to discuss it would be stirring “unrest” and, in a perfect example of bureaucratic doublespeak, it anyway didn’t fit the BCLC’s stated criteria of raising the “hopes and aspirations of our community”. As Games Monitor have patiently explained in their detailed response, the term housing crisis refers to a much wider situation:
Between 1981 and 2006, Glasgow lost 60,000 social homes and added 60,000 private homes. It is to do with punishing rents, gentrification, the expansion of personal and national debt, demolition and displacement. The National Housing Federation say that half of all people’s disposable income is taken up by rent, in ten years time this will rise to 57%.
The idea that there’s no housing crisis is particularly laughable, not just in the context of the Bedroom Tax, but because the BCLC sits just a few minutes walk away from the Bellgrove Hotel. A squalid doss house home to up to 160 men who’ve fallen through the cracks, its owners rake in £1.5m in Housing Benefit from it every year, and it’s rightfully become a by-word for the crisis in housing in the city.
It doesn’t take a gigantic leap of imagination to link Glasgow City Council, and by implication Glasgow Labour, and their many arms (length organisations) to this decision. Whether a direct intervention was made or not, a culture has been instilled where the council and its decision makers, regardless of whatever evidence may be brought up, are untouchable and can do no wrong, from the farce surrounding the George Square redevelopment to the Saez debacle (below), and the dodgy land deals around the Commonwealth Games. There would, rightly, be uproar if a meeting in a venue run directly run by the council was blocked for not fitting a rigid “criteria”, but as with so much of the running of this city, the decision had been parked out to an arms-length quango, effectively running a council service but with none of the oversight or accountability that directly run bodies are bound by.
Obviously, BCLC maintains close links with Glasgow Labour. The mysterious “Board of Directors” behind the blocking of the meeting did, until January, contain one Labour councillor, among other party members on its board including the Principal of Glasgow Kelvin College, and a certain Ronnie Saez. As head of the Glasgow East Regeneration Agency, Saez took a £500k pay-off, including £232k of the charity’s assets, being found guilty of “misconduct” by the charities regulator last year, but with no remedial action taken. Saez continued in his role at BCLC for another 8 months after this. Oddly enough, Saez’s 500 grand had been signed off by three Labour councillors, including George Redmond, who’s another former board member at BCLC. It’s all looking pretty cosy isn’t it? And not to read too much into it, but the BCLC website also still boasts pictures of shamed former council leader, coke-guzzling, gangland-linked Steven Purcell, who both secured the Glasgow 2014 bid and oversaw much of the parcelling out of the council to ‘arms-length’ companies, before resigning in 2010 amid a ‘drugs and corruption’ scandal….
The overarching message of this couldn’t be clearer: criticism and debate around the Commonwealth Games and the realignment of Glasgow into becoming a post-industrial powerhouse of er, retail and financial services, is intolerable for GCC. And dissent can be anything from sticking a cone atop the Wellington statue (a “depressing image of Glasgow”), meeting your pals in the park (they have by-laws against that now), or using the city centre as a forum for public protest (unless you’re the Orange Order, who can do whatever they like). The benevolent officials at the City Chambers, Glasgow Labour and their God-given right to rule Glasgow, know what’s best, and the rest of us should just shut up and let them get on with it.