Council elections – expect major increases for Tories and Labour collapse


Orbit Communications - Alex Orr 01
Managing Director, Alex_M_Orr

Last year witnessed something of a political whirlwind, with elections to the Scottish Parliament, the EU referendum, and the small matter of the election of Donald J. Trump as US President. This year will see Scotland go to the polls yet again. However, this time we will be focused on more mundane, bread and butter issues at the council elections.

Councils play a major role across a huge range of local services such as schools, social work and rubbish collection. Those issues that impact on our day-to-day lives. And elections to Scotland’s 32 councils will take place on 4th May, with all of the 1,223 seats up for grabs.

At the last council elections in 2012 Labour and the SNP weren’t that far apart, with the SNP securing 425 to Labour’s 394 councillors, on 32% and 31% of the vote respectively.

However, Labour still holds the whip hand in Scotland’s town halls, and in central and southern Scotland Labour is part of the administration in all but five councils (Argyll and Bute, Scottish Borders, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire and Midlothian).

In the northern half of Scotland the picture is much more mixed. The SNP enjoys a powerbase in Tayside with overall majorities in Dundee and Angus. Traditionally independents play a significant role in parts of the Highlands and islands and some rural areas.

As readers will be aware, the landscape has changed dramatically since 2012, with Scottish politics becoming polarised around the issues of independence and the Union. This has most recently been escalated with the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament’s call for a second independence referendum, rejected by Prime Minister May.

With the surge in SNP membership after the independence referendum of 2014, and the party taking 56 out of 59 Westminster seats – many in Labour strongholds – optimism will be high in SNP ranks.

Top targets for the SNP this time include some of Labour’s fortresses such as Glasgow and North Lanarkshire, where Labour has overall majorities.

The party will also be looking to regain control of councils including Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire where Labour has been in charge since 2012.

While the Scottish Conservatives secured 115 councillors on 13% of the vote in 2012, with the party now being the second party at Holyrood, expect it to chalk up significant increases. This will be particularly in rural councils such as Perth and Kinross, taking seats from the SNP.

Despite these being elections to councils, the Tories will also make the constitution a focus of their campaign, painting themselves as the only credible ‘defenders of the Union’. ‘Vote Tory to send a signal to Nicola Sturgeon’, highlighting opposition to a second independence referendum.

Labour is anticipated to be the loser over the piece. Lord Robert Hayward said that the results in Scotland risked being “cataclysmic” for Labour, facing near electoral wipe-out.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats will be hoping to recover from their poor 2012 performance, and the Scottish Greens will look to build on their handful of councillors.

It should be noted however that that there is no guarantee that the party with the largest number of councillors in an authority will form the administration, although this is normally the case. At these elections it will be interesting to see if those parties supporting keeping Scotland in the UK come together to keep the SNP out of power in town halls.

The election will also be interesting in terms of seeing whether, given a re-engagement with politics, individuals will be turning out and voting on the issue of bin collections, schooling and potholes, or will follow the new tribal instincts of nationalism versus unionism.

The fact that councils are able to raise council tax by 3% following years of a freeze may have an impact on the electorate, or it may be used, as is often the case, to deliver a mid-term verdict on the Scottish Government and its call for a second independence referendum.

Those who are strong advocates of local democracy will be hoping that the focus will be on local services and how these are paid for, rather than what is happening at Westminster or Holyrood.

My prediction is that tribal instincts will largely dominate, so expect councillor gains for the SNP, significant gains for the Tories, a Labour collapse, an increase in Green numbers and a modest recovery for the Liberal Democrats.


Now’s the time to think about helping others

James Fletcher
James Fletcher, Director, ARC Scotland @ArcScot

This week marks the second anniversary of the Social Care (Self-directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2013, which came into force in 2014.

This legislation places a duty on local authorities to offer people who are eligible for social care a range of choices over how they receive their support.

Self-directed Support allows people, their carers and their families to make choices about what their support looks like and how it is delivered. As a result of this, and other changes, we have started to see a shift in how social care is provided and how social care organisations operate.

One of the biggest challenges for many support organisations in making the change to self-directed support is staff shortages. Many are forced to rely on agency staff, leading to a lack of continuity of care and support for people whose relationship with their support worker is often critical to their quality of life and ability to achieve the things that are important to them. This includes people who have learning disabilities, mental health problems, autism, physical and sensory disabilities.

To address this challenge, organisations need to make connections with people of all ages who have the right values to support people with additional needs and in turn encourage them to consider working in this rewarding field. As a sector, we have a long way to go to promote the many positive aspects of working in social care and the satisfying career it can provide.

Unfortunately, the social care profession has been perceived to be undervalued for many years. It is often commented that people who work on supermarket check-outs may receive better terms and conditions. Zero hour contracts are prevalent in some organisations. There is a perception that social care offers entry-level employment for those who cannot find it anywhere else. It is also true that the work can sometimes present complex and challenging circumstances for employees.

The Scottish Government’s commitment to a living wage for care workers will help to improve salaries for support workers, however more needs to be done to communicate the very real rewards the work offers, and to encourage more people with the right values and attitudes consider applying for work in the sector.

Employers often say that they know who will make a good support worker very soon after meeting them. This is regardless of any training or previous experience they have. In social care, a person’s inherent values and attitude matter most. It is generally accepted that these values include the ability to listen to and respect other people, a commitment to help others to achieve the things that are important to them, coupled with a willingness to reflect on what they do and learn from mistakes.

Fresh approaches to recruitment are beginning to emerge. This can be seen through the increasing involvement of supported people themselves in the recruitment process, including people employing their own staff through self-directed support.

Good employers will seek to match the skills and interests of their staff with those of the people they support, like gardening, DIY, cooking and art. Many employers now wish to attract older people with life experience who are looking for a change to a more meaningful work, are returning to the job market or are retired and looking to work only a few hours a week. Good social care organisations will welcome inquiries from people of all ages and backgrounds who have a commitment to making a difference to people’s lives.

So, as we raise further awareness this week of Self-directed Support and the opportunities for improved choice and control it offers supported people, I would like to encourage anybody who feel they have the right values and think they would benefit from the rewards, whatever their age or experience, to consider a new career in social care.

A version of this blog first appeared as a Friends of the Scotsman