In one of his first acts as first minister, Humza Yousaf sat down with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) president, Shona Morrison, to renew the government’s commitment to a new deal for local government. This is intended to reduce the ringfencing of funding and give councils more flexibility in how they set their budgets.
The debate around local government reform has been long running, especially in relation to funding. While spending restraints are a challenge for all local authorities, they are particularly acute in Glasgow where assets such as the Kelvingrove art gallery and the city chambers have been effectively mortgaged to fill budget gaps.
As a proud ‘weegie’, I’m fully aware of my own bias in seeing Glasgow as Scotland’s beating heart. More objectively, it is Scotland’s biggest city, it sits at the centre of a wider region with a population of over 1.8 million people and, in 2019 that Glasgow Metropolitan Region generated almost £46.3bn of gross value added (GVA). This puts Glasgow at number five on the UK GVA league table, with every region above it having its own directly elected mayor with specific powers and economic levers at their disposal.
Current funding structures simply do not fully cater for Glasgow’s unique position. Although many of the 1.8 million people in the city region frequent Glasgow on a regular basis, using many of its public services and facilities, less than half of these people pay their council tax in Glasgow.
Glasgow’s cultural significance is also worthy of comment. The city is home to nationally significant cultural hubs such as the Kelvingrove art gallery, the Burrell collection and the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), all of which are managed by Glasgow City Council, unlike many of their counterparts in Edinburgh, which are under the jurisdiction of the Scottish government.
Now, there is a fair argument to be made that Edinburgh’s world class venues should be funded nationally. However, this exception to what had seemed like a long-running rule has now been challenged by the fact that the V&A in Dundee was recently granted ‘National Status’ which means an additional £2m a year in funding from the Scottish government. This gives Glasgow a fair axe to grind, and a reason to look again at the settlement for local government in Scotland – especially for Glasgow.
In order to address these issues, while also ensuring that local authorities remain in charge of services, the Scottish government could direct a specific proportion of funding to Glasgow, in recognition of the city’s national significant and the challenges which this incurs.
Other local authorities will rightly make their own case for funding reform and their voices should be heard fully. However, Glasgow is a city with a strong global presence and a growing reputation as an international centre for culture, the arts, research, innovation and as a host of major events. If it is to realise its full potential then its leaders need to be fully empowered, with the spending powers they need, to take the city forward.