Article in Todays Scotsman – Big Goverment, Small Democracy
This article is printed in the Scotsman today. My main point is that a Christian view of government tends towards ‘small’ government rather than a big centralised, one size fits all government. This is because of our understanding of human sinfulness, the nature of the rulers as ‘servants of God’ and the purpose of government. Do you agree?
Here is the text of the article:
IT’S difficult to understand how ‘big government’ decides where to flash the cash, writes David Robertson
Glasgow got one in 2014, Aberdeen is getting one in 2016 and Edinburgh probably doesn’t need one. My city, Dundee, could desperately do with one. What are we talking about? A government funded city deal – some £250 million for Aberdeen and more than £1 billion for Glasgow. The idea is that government steps in to help cities facing some kind of financial crisis.
There are many questions that arise out of this. How much will this apparent government largesse really help, and for how long? Why is Aberdeen in financial crisis and needing a government bail out? I remember visiting a home in the city a few years ago – I had never seen so many Porsches in one street! The oil boom ensured that house prices became the most expensive in Scotland and car dealerships had a great time. So why does the city now need a bail-out? Did it not prepare for these times? Is there no accountability?
The key question is – is this really the way we want our cities to be governed? There is a real threat to local democracy coming from the centralised State based in both London and Edinburgh. Logically, you would think that the electorate would be most interested in local councils because after all, they affect us most directly.
But the turn-out for local government elections is usually the lowest. Being seen as a local councilor has gone the same career route as being the local teacher or minister. Respect for politicians is about as low as respect for priests.
One of the problems is that people perceive that local politicians really have little power (and they are concerned that what power they do have might be used in an unethical and dishonest manner). With more than 40 per cent of council money coming from government grants, with the Scottish government putting an effective lock on local councils raising their own income and with national highly organised parties (at least in some cases) determining what local politicians do, it seems as though the era of big government is here.
As Christians, we thank the Lord for government – we accept that as Paul tells the Romans, “the authorities that exist have been established by God’ (Romans 13:1). We know that we are to pray, “for kings and those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”. We expect our governments to protect the people, punish evil and provide for the poor. But like all the good gifts God has given us, governments can go wrong. The main area where this happens is where government forgets its limitations and starts to believe and act as though it were the supreme and only authority. We are all in trouble when the State believes it is God.
We are in an era when the old balances and checks that existed in our country are being threatened by an increase in big government, run by parties funded by big corporations who purchase big media, and led by politicians with a Messianic complex. Despite the cries of democracy there is an increasing trend towards centralisation whether to Edinburgh, London or Brussels. And the victims in this are local communities and local councils.
There is no doubt that many of Scotland’s cities and councils are in crisis. They are being compelled to make savage cuts in basic services while being restrained from cutting others. My own city, Dundee, has to make a budget cut of some £28m. We all know who will be affected the most. The poor. Those who can afford to will go to private gyms, buy their own books and send their children to private schools. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is enslaved to a policy which seemed like a good idea at the time but is now handicapping councils, whilst subsidising the rich. The Council tax freeze worked well as a temporary populist measure, but to have it as an indefinite policy in a time of austerity is the economics of fairyland.
The removal of the abilities of local politicians to raise their own taxes is a removal of accountability and a denigration of local democracy. It also means that civil servants have more power than elected officials and therefore reap the rewards. Glasgow city council has over 100 managers who are earning more than £100,000 per annum. In what world does it make sense to have one tax-funded employee earning more than three and a half times the salary of the Prime Minister or the First Minister? David Crawford, the executive director of social care services, has a total package, including a redundancy payment, of £486,303. At a time when social care is being slashed I’m sure the poor are delighted to know that the person who is being paid to look after them is being made rich.
And that is the trouble with big government, big corporations and big salaries for a big bureaucracy. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In order to avoid that we need a return to a more balanced, and localised politics. We need an intelligent, committed and educated electorate. We need co-operation between the state, voluntary organisations, community groups and the churches.
In the up coming Scottish parliamentary elections I wonder if any of the political parties will be prepared to set Scotland’s councils free.
• David Robertson, Solas CPC, http://www.solas-cpc.org
This article got a tremendous response some of which I put below for you:
Moderator: MSPs have helped the wealthy
The Herald 19 Feb 2016
ONE of Scotland’s leading churchmen has accused Holyrood ministers of “subsidising the rich” over their handling of the financial crisis facing councils.In a highly unusual and provocative move, the Free Church of Scotland Moderator Rev David Robertson condemned the continuing freeze on council tax, accusing the Scottish Government of being responsible for “a denigration of local democracy”
The Moderator also called for a greater interest in local democracy rather than a centralisation of power.The Government has always maintained it has funded the council tax freeze and is seeking to replace the charge in the near future.
It has also claimed the long-standing policy has assisted the lower paid in the current financial climate.Rev Robertson argued that senior civil servants had far more power than elected officials, and urged a return to “more-balanced and localised politics”.He said: “We are in an era when the old balances and checks that existed in our country are being threatened by an increase in big government, run by parties funded by big corporations who purchase big media, and led by politicians with a Messianic complex.”
Moderator condemns tax freeze
The Press and Journal 19 Feb 2016
The SNP has confirmed its intention to keep the council tax freeze until it finds a way to replace it after a Church leader called on the next Scottish government to “set councils free”.The SNP administration said it has given councils more than enough money to cover the cost of the freeze, which it estimates has saved the average band D household around £1,550.But Rev David Robertson, moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, said the freeze is “handicapping councils, whilst subsidising the rich”.
He also attacked Scotland’s largest council for paying out six-figure sums to managers and allowing a former director of social care to depart with £240,000.The Scottish Government said it expects councils to ensure public sector pay demonstrates value for money.
Glasgow City Council said the figures quoted by Mr Robertson include compensation for redundancies, which have reduced the wage bill and saved the city £50million a year.Mr Robertson said that “councils are in crisis” and are being “compelled t o make s av a g e cuts”.He said: “The council tax freeze worked well as a temporary populist measure, but to have it as an indefinite policy in a time of austerity is the economics of fairyland.“In the upcoming Scottish parliamentar y elections I wonder if any of the political parties will be prepared to set Scotland’s councils free.”
He went on: “Glasgow City Council state they have seven managers with a p a c k a g e o f mor e than £ 1 0 0 , 0 0 0 p e r a n n u m, though the TaxPayers’ Alliance suspects this figure is much higher.
“In what world does it make sense to have one tax-funded employee earning al most double the salary of the prime minister or the first minister? In his f i nal year David Crawford, the executive director of social care services, had a total package of £240,000.
“At a time when social care is being slashed I’m sure the poor are delighted to know that the person who was being paid to look after them was being made rich.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has funded the council tax freeze to the tune of almost £500 million since 2008 to ensure local authorities are able to continue to provide the essential services they are responsible for.
A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: “The figures being quoted are not salaries.
“They include compensation for redundancy – which is this cost of huge reductions in our wage bill, i ncluding management costs.”
Moderator delivers damning verdict on council tax freeze
Scottish Daily Mail 19 Feb 2016
THE leader of the Free Church of Scotland has condemned the SNP’s council tax freeze as the ‘economics of fairyland’.
In a rare intervention in day-to-day politics, the Rev David Robertson accused the Nationalists of ‘handicapping’ local authorities, and said parties were being ‘led by politicians with a Messianic complex’.
Following a series of exposés by the Mail into fat- cat salaries, the Dundee-based minister also blasted the sky-high wages enjoyed by many council bureaucrats.
All 32 local authorities are set to freeze council tax for the ninth year from April, despite attempts by some to defy Finance Secretary John Swinney.
Some Labour-led councils are considering legal action against the Scottish Government, which plans to reduce the total grant for local government by £774million in 2016-17, or 7.2 per cent when inflation is taken into account.
Mr Robertson said: ‘We are in an era when the old balances and checks that existed in our country are being threatened by an increase in big government, run by parties funded by big corporations who purchase big media, and led by politicians with a Messianic complex. Despite the cries of democracy, there is an increasing trend towards centralisation whether to Edinburgh, London or Brussels, and the victims in this are local communities and councils.
‘There is no doubt that many of Scotland’s cities and councils are in crisis. They are being compelled to make savage cuts in basic services whilst being restrained from cutting others.’
He added: ‘The council tax freeze worked well as a temporary populist measure, but to have it as an indefinite policy in a time of austerity is the economics of fairyland.’
But while councils have complained about the looming cuts, it emerged last month there has been an 18 per cent increase in the number of taxpayer-funded pay and pension deals worth more than £100,000 awarded to senior council officials.
In 2014, it was also reported how Glasgow City Council had 32 employees receiving a sixfigure sum in 2012-13 – partly because of retirement and redundancy programmes.
David Crawford, former executive director of social care services in Glasgow, received the largest remuneration package in the UK of £486,303. He took early retirement on a salary of just over £102,000, and received a sixfigure compensation cash deal, with a large pension pot top-up.
Mr Robertson said: ‘Civil servants have more power than elected officials and therefore reap the rewards.
‘In what world does it make sense to have one tax-funded employee earning almost double the salary of the Prime Minister or the First Minister? At a time when social care is being slashed I’m sure the poor are delighted to know that the person who was being paid to look after them was being made rich.’
In response, a Government spokesman said: ‘The Scottish Government has funded the council tax freeze to the tune of almost £500million since 2008 to ensure local authorities are able to continue to provide essential services they are responsible for.
‘Indeed, recent independent research found that the freeze has actually been over-funded.
‘We recognise the pressures on budgets across the whole of the public sector, and in households throughout Scotland, which is why it is important to maintain the council tax freeze – which has now saved the average band D household around £1,550 – while we consider ways to replace it.
A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: ‘We continue to make substantial cost savings at the top layer of management.’As pressure grows on Mr Swinney ahead of next week’s final budget vote, the secretary of the GMB union in Scotland, Gary Smith, said: ‘Ministers need to take their heads out of the sand about the devastating impact of the cuts.’
Councils hike charges as SNP cuts start to bite
Scottish Daily Express 19 Feb 2016
COUNCIL bosses are set to hit grieving families as they hike the fees for a string of services following another SNP tax freeze.
All of Scotland’s 32 local authorities signed up Deputy First Minister’s John Swinney’s funding deal this month after being threatened with huge financial penalties. The move has triggered warnings of tens of thousands of job losses and cuts.
But now it has emerged that cash-strapped councils plan to slap inflation-busting charges on those burying loved ones as they struggle to balance the books.
The cost of school dinners and music tuition are also being raised in desperate budget measures.
Highland Council will next week vote on plans to hike the interment fees from £638 this year to £970 in 2016/17–a 52 per cent rise.
Cremation fees will also soar by 32 per cent from £638 to £849, while buying a lair will rise from £566 to £753 as the council tries to deal with a £50 million shortfall.
Several other councils contacted by the Scottish Daily Express have already increased fees or planning to do so in desperate budget measures.
Neighbouring Moray has raised charges by five per from £758 to £796 for interments.
Aberdeen is considering a 5.5 per cent increase per year on its cremation fees, with a 8.5 per cent hike in burials over the next five years.
Elsewhere, Fife has proposed hiking cremation fees from £626 to £632 and interments from £567 to £573.
The hikes come amid repeated warnings mourning families are being driven into debt by the cost of arranging the funerals.
Overall costs have soared to as much as £5,000, according to Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS)
And the Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty recently called for a change in the law so that local authorities would have to justify any above inflation increases.
Reverend Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, last night hit out at the “grossly insufficient” government support.
She said: “Scottish Government and local authority budgets may be squeezed, but they cannot be balanced on the backs of those who mourn.”
Moray’s independent-Conservative administration has also backed raising the cost of pupils’ meals and charges for music teaching by 20 per.
Labour-Conservative Stirling council is also considering raising music tuition from £246 to £492.
A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “The reason councils the length and breadth of Scotland are having to propose cost increases like these to burial charges is down to the decision made by the SNP Government to cut support for local government.
“The simple truth is that John Swinney has chosen to make cuts that will cost thousands of jobs and lead to increased charges for council services.”
Moray Council its fee increases were agreed in December 2014 but being accelerated to achieve further savings.
A spokeswoman added: “The impact on people with lower incomes has been considered and mitigating action includes working with the industry to provide clear publicity to signpost support available.”
Under Mr Swinney’s Budget, councils will see their total grant slashed in 2016-17 by £774million, or 7.2 per cent when inflation is taken into account.
But that falls to an average of 3.5 per cent because of extra money diverted from the health budget.
His “mafia-style” threat of imposing fines meant that £70million funding for the council tax freeze, £88million to maintain teacher , and £250million for a health and social care revolution would have been stripped away if councils did not toe the line.
Some are now taking legal advice over the restrictive nature of the deal.
Unions will protest at Holyrood next week final reading of his Budget next week.
The GMB said the cuts will result in nearly 9,000 job losses next year–while Unite says they will cost 15,000 jobs.
Rev David Robertson, moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, yesterday hit out at the freeze saying it is “handicapping councils, whilst subsidising the rich”.
He said: “The council tax freeze worked well as a temporary populist measure, but to have it as an indefinite policy in a time of austerity is the economics of fairyland.”
The Scottish Government said £500 million of funding for the freeze since 2008 would ensure councils “continue to provide the essential services”.
A spokesman added: “Local government has been treated very fairly by the Scottish Government and protected from the worst impact of UK cuts, despite cuts of nearly 9 per cent to the Scottish budget from the UK Government.”