Councillor Mark Macmillan, leader of Renfrewshire council will be stepping down from his position before the local elections in May. During his time as leader tackling poverty, and in particular child poverty has been the main goal of the council.
The Scottish Government has increased the charges for homes that come under Council Tax bands E to H which will come into effect from April 2017 and will effect the Renfrewshire Council area.
Councillor Macmillan said: “The Council tax rise was not the [Renfrewshire] council’s decision to raise it. In fact we decided to freeze the council tax. The rise in the council tax is from E to H which was a decision taken by the Scottish Government. That has a further effect on people because there are large rises in the higher bands.
“My view is the same as the Scottish Governments view some years ago when they told us that they were going to scrap the council tax because it’s unfair. They haven’t done that and I think they should revisit it and do what they said what they were going to do and change to a fairer local taxation. A more equitable taxation that will allow local government to be funded properly.
“Right now local government is being starved of cash. Renfrewshire council has seen its budget been reduced by the Scottish Government by just short of 20% over the past five years.
“If you think over those five years the public sector has reduced but we’ve been asked to do more because people are struggling, poverty is on the rise and even destitution is on the rise in some places. That makes it hard for councils like Renfrewshire to make the meaningful changes. The solution to the council tax is to change it, scrap it and have a fairer system of locally based taxation.”
In Renfrewshire, one in five children are growing up in poverty. Over the past financial quarter, there has been an increase of children going to food banks in Paisley. Statistics compiled by the Council showed that 437 children required food bank assistance from July to September 2016. This is an increase by 23%.
Councillor Macmillan explained: “It’s increasingly difficult when the Scottish Government cuts our budget and the UK Government cuts welfare spending. Those two things are like the perfect storm because the people that are getting their welfare benefits cut by the UK Government are the ones that are then relying on the council to support and the Scottish Government’s cutting the councils money.”
Recently, figures were released on the performance of pupils in secondary schools based on Higher exam results. Gryff High School in Renfrewshire made the top 20 but other schools in the area did not make the top 50.
Councillor Macmillan said: “If you look at the postcodes of where the top schools are they’re in the wealthiest areas of Scotland. Not only is the total amount of funding to local government been cut and Renfrewshire has been cut by 20% over the past five years, but also the way money is distributed to local government needs to be changed.
“The way it is distributed at the moment reinforces poverty and affluence at the same time. An example of that is, Renfrewshire Council gets less money every year to educate a child in St Fergus PS in Ferguslie which is statistically the poorest place in Scotland. As opposed to that, East Renfrewshire council gets more money every year to educate a child in St Cadoc’s PS which catchment area is White Craig’s. That area is statistically the most affluent place in Scotland.
“In my mind, that should be the other way about. It should get more money to educate children in areas of high poverty because we know it’s harder for these kids if their families are struggling. Some of these kids will be going to school and choices have had to been made at home as to whether they have a breakfast or not because of the money.”
Renfrewshire council put on breakfast clubs in these schools. They started feeding children during the holidays because they noticed a spike in the number of people using food banks during the school breaks.
Councillor Macmillan explained that: “Because the schools were closed in the holiday period they weren’t getting their free school meal. We are now, 52 weeks of the year feeding children in Renfrewshire through free school meals. That same level of need is not in the affluent areas but the way the government distributes the money to council’s reinforces poverty.
“We need to make sure more money goes to help the kids that are living in poverty to help lift them out of poverty. When they are lifted out of poverty it means they get a job and it means they are paying tax and the whole place is more prosperous. But at the moment we are spending more money year on year in the more prosperous areas and less money in the poor areas.”