Members of Unite the union in East Dunbartonshire are taking part in a national day of action calling on the Scottish Government to help drop the debt and protect cash-strapped local services.
Scotland’s biggest union estimates that the annual cost of servicing East Dunbartonshire Council’s debt is around £16 million – which, it says, does not include debts run up under the controversial Private Finance Initiative.
Unite claims that research carried out as part of its Drop the Debt campaign shows the equivalent of 55p of every pound in council tax paid in East Dunbartonshire is spent on paying interest on historic debt. The figure across Scotland is around 44p in the £1.
Now the union is calling on the Scottish Government to support an amnesty on loans that East Dunbartonshire Council took out with the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) before devolution. According to Unite, this could save the council some £3.52 million a year.
Unite members in local authorities across Scotland are today (Thursday 24 November) holding stalls, rallies and collecting signatures to lobby Scottish Ministers. Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “Our public services are being shredded because of an economic crisis caused by casino bankers. It’s an attack on all of us – from children in nurseries to elderly people needing care.
“We believe a debt amnesty will help. There is already a precedent for it – for example, the UK Government wrote off Glasgow City Council’s historic housing debt when its homes were transferred to a new housing association.
“Eventually, we need the UK Treasury to act. But if there is going to be any chance of that happening we need the Scottish Government to get on board first. We need our government to do everything it can to protect the local services we all rely on from Tory austerity.
“The cuts are taking a massive toll on our members. They are having to work harder and harder, with fewer and fewer resources, just to provide basic services to local people.
“We can’t go on like this. It’s time to drop the debt.”
In the 17 years since devolution, Unite estimates that Scotland’s councils have sent back a minimum of £3.3 billion to HM Treasury in interest-only payments, just to cover historic debt to the PWLB.
Nationally, the Scottish Labour Party made the demand part of their manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood election, and earlier this month the Scottish Green Party added their support.