John Pentland diary
SOMETIMES, not spending money is stupid.
Not replacing a roof tile can rot timber, and eventually the roof will collapse. It doesn’t make sense not to get the tile fixed.
Preventative spending is the latest buzz phrase. Somehow it is viewed as a magic solution to the problem of cuts in funding for public services. The trouble is, preventative spending means spending money upfront to make savings further down the line. It doesn’t eliminate the need to maintain existing services.
Take housing, for example. The opportunities for preventative spending go well beyond roof repairs and well beyond housing.
Many of our homes could benefit from improved energy efficiency. Such improvements will eventually pay for themselves through lower bills, but those in most need often find it difficult to make improvements. They need help, and there are good reasons why it is in everybody’s interest to give that help.
A Fuel Poverty Advisory Group study shows that for every £1 spent on fuel poverty, 42p is saved by the NHS. 770,000 Scottish households are in fuel poverty, and price rises will push that nearer to a million.
We need to reduce carbon emissions. Housing is responsible for a quarter of our carbon emissions, so energy efficiency is crucial to meeting targets.
It is estimated that nearly 10,000 jobs could be created through improving the energy efficiency of our buildings. Housing is crucial to the economic, health and social wellbeing of Scotland’s people – not my words, not my party’s words – although I am sure we would all agree … these are the words of the Scottish Government.
Yet the Scottish Government are cutting budgets for housing and action on fuel poverty. Fewer houses will be built and subsidies for social housing will be smaller, making it more difficult to build houses where they are most needed – in areas of high deprivation. The money available for new affordable homes in the next three years is 60 per cent less than in the past three. Another example is education. In an area with unemployment 50 per cent higher than the UK average, Motherwell College make an important contribution to the local economy, as an education provider and as an employer. However, they are facing a 20 per cent cut in Scottish Government funding, on top of 10 per cent last year. This will mean fewer staff, fewer students and fewer courses. As we struggle to climb out of recession, cutbacks in college education are counterproductive. Instead of giving people the knowledge and skills they need to get jobs, cuts will put more on the dole.
I have met with the college and students and tabled two motions. The first, highlighting and supporting the continued achievements of Motherwell College and students, has nine SNP supporters; the second, opposing the cut in funding, which will undermine the college’s ability to maintain these achievements, has none.