Far from being clueless learner drivers at the recent budget meeting at Fife Council, Fife’s 16 Conservative councillors were the only ones in a chamber of 75 not to accept the administration’s cuts and 3% Council tax rise as inevitable.
It isn’t just that Cllr Ferguson and his SNP colleagues went along with the service-cutting agenda handed down by their SNP masters at Holyrood without a peep to the contrary, as they have done every year for the last ten – which, of course, begs the question about what the point is of voting SNP when SNP councillors refuse to fight for a fair deal for Fife with the SNP Government at Holyrood?
It’s that every other councillor apart from the Conservatives adheres to the lazy belief that there is no alternative to a never-ending, gradual running down of public services.
Most disappointing of all was the reaction of the SNP and Labour coalition at Fife Council when the Conservatives challenged this article of faith by putting forward proposals to halt the cuts and soften the Council Tax rise.
Instead they did two things, both of which Cllr Ferguson repeats in his letter. First, they bleated that we presented no budget figures when they know full well we were prevented from doing so in the chamber by the intervention of officers – our proposals are fully costed and the figures are available to anyone who asks for them.
Second, they deliberately misunderstood and mischaracterised what we were proposing. We never proposed to “privatise everything”, let alone to “give jobs to low-paying, high-profit big business”. Instead we put the case for examining a range of council services – in social care, roads maintenance, building and catering – to see whether outsourcing them to Fife-based companies and the third sector might not produce an improved, more customer-focused and better value for money service than the Council currently provides in-house.
For this suggestion, we were treated as heretics. To get an idea of how hysterical and hypocritical this response by Cllr Ferguson and his SNP and Labour colleagues was, readers only have to remember that Fife Council already uses private firms and charities to deliver very many services. For example, 88% of care home beds it funds are in the private and third sectors, chunks of social care, roads maintenance, building services, homeless and housing services, community services – these are already being delivered by local companies, charities and social enterprises.
Only this week as a member of the Council’s Communities and Housing Committee, I endorsed more than £9 million of funding to voluntary organisations to provide services for Fifers which the Council thinks essential but which it lacks the capacity and resources to deliver itself.
To return to Cllr Ferguson’s analogy, perhaps the problem is that he and his SNP and Labour colleagues have been driving for far too long and it’s time they took a leaf out of Prince Phillip’s book and surrendered their licences. They may think they know it all, they may see no reason to change the course or vehicle they’ve been using for the last forty years. But the question for everyone else in Fife is whether they also believe they are doomed to ever-rustier bangers on ever more crumbling roads.