We are in the dying days of the old regime. For the first time in nearly 40 years, Labour look set to lose their grip on Glasgow’s City Chambers.
It remains to be seen whether what follows will be any better, not least in the climate of deepening austerity. But as Glasgow Labour prepare to face the inevitable – a crushing defeat in May’s local elections – the behaviour of those at the helm of Scotland’s largest council has become increasingly erratic, even by their own (low) standards.
Just this week, we’ve had workers on strike against their own jobs being privatised, a councillor abandoning ship, another accidentally pressing the wrong button during a key vote, a three line whip imposed on attendance as they desperately try to retain control… and they gave an award for “best business” to a firm employing a suspended Labour councillor!
For several months, the council have been touting the wholesale privatisation of their IT services as a cash saving solution to the gaping hole in their finances. It’s understood that the council will forego the usual tendering process and hand a seven year deal worth £400m to Canadian multinational CGI Group, following the lead of other Scottish local authorities, and replacing a current joint initative the council have with Serco. Unions are furious at the outsourcing of staff and the council has been plunged into a bitter, and potentially long running, dispute with a key section of its workforce. Rolling strike action commenced this week.
Farce and tragedy usually come together at GCC and this latest proposal has been no different, after a bungling Labour councillor “pulled a Dugdale” and accidentally voted with the opposition during a crunch committee vote on Tuesday. The privatisation plan has now stalled and will bounce back to the executive for further consideration.
Glasgow Labour are already operating on life support. Last week one of their councillors decided to make the jump early and left to take up a job elsewhere. With no time for a by-election before May, Labour have conveniently timed the readmittance of one of their own members, Sohan Singh, who had been suspended for the last three years. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and there’s an IT service that needs privatised after all!
Indeed, if it goes ahead and IT is parcelled off to a private company, rather than just the previously favoured tactic of using “arms length” council bodies, then why not parks too? Leisure facilities? Social services? After all, we already have a situation where many schools across Scotland are owned and passed between anonymous private consortiums. And funding pressures are going to get worse.
Labour know the game that they are playing here. They are using their dying days to ram through some proposals and freely raise the prospect of others, in a bid to put the SNP in a bind if they assume power in May. Some of it is pure electioneering: take the seven year (lol) economic strategy, unveiled last week, that’s going to “create 50,000 jobs”, for instance. Other projects – like the fabled Glasgow Airport Rail Link and the dubiously titled “East End Regeneration Route” – have suddenly reemerged after being talked about for over a decade.
If the SNP administration find themselves unable to deliver on these promises, it provides a PR coup for the opposition; the same goes if they have to backtrack on support for striking janitors or implement privatisation. As Gerry Braiden put it in The Herald recently, there’s little glory in local government and the SNP will find themselves facing a shitstorm, while Glasgow Labour will probably rediscover their radicalism.
Amid all the doom and gloom, however, it’s reassuring that straight from a cameo in Still Game a few weeks ago, the council have still got the magic touch when it comes to giving gongs to their pals. Wednesday night saw the 2016 Glasgow Guarantee Awards held in the City Chambers, hosted by council leader Frank McAveety and aimed at honouring businesses who’ve helped those who are out of work get into employment.
People like Yvonne Küçük, presumably, who is currently suspended from Scottish Labour while she faces a police embezzlement probe, although still sits as a councillor. As this blog revealed a few months ago, she’s taken up a new job with a scaffolding firm called Community Build, who are so close to Frank McAveety that he’s shared directorships with their manager and attended a “corporate sponsorship” boxing night with them. So it’s nice to see old pals helping each other out, and who could be more deserving than them for the Glasgow Guarantee Business Award for Organisations With More Than 50 Employees? Here is a photo of Councillor Küçük with the award that her new employers received from the err… council she sits on and whose ruling administration she is suspended from while facing a police enquiry…