Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Nairn and its public swimming pool and leisure complex

Highland Council is in a big fix - it is running a very significant deficit in relation both to its council tax-payer base and the relatively low-density population of what is the largest local government region by area in western Europe. Apparently it is still looking for GBP36mio of cuts to meet a savings target of GBP59mio over a three-year period. This is a massive amount and it seems that harsh choices will have to me made.

Like most people who have a close connection with Nairn I would regard it as a real tragedy were its swimming pool to be forced to close for financial reasons. A significant part of the local economy depends upon the summer tourist trade and the pool, along with various other leisure installations locally adds a lot to the attractiveness of the town for visitors. Local residents, and particularly local children, benefit too from having such a facility where they can exercise and learn a healthy sport, both as part of their school curriculum and in their leisure-time. So it is good to see that a primary school pupil, Fiona Cameron (no relation), has launched a Facebook campaign to save the pool and the campaign has now grown to the extent that the regional Press & Journal newspaper has a major article on it today.

However, much as I support the campaign (and I have added my support to Fiona's Facebook campaign), I reirerate that harsh choices are going to have to be made. I hope that one of the necessary savings won't be to cut funding for the Nairn swimming pool, but recognise that it may happen. It is inescapable that somewhere throughout the Highland Council area there are going to be a lot of disgruntled people. The vast bulk of council funding does not in fact come from the locally-raised Council Tax, but instead comes from central government 'block grants', which of course are ultimately funded by Income Tax or other kinds of taxes. Councils and governments have only three ways of procuring funds - to levy taxes, to take on borrowing commitments or to run-up completely unfunded debts. Alternatively they can curtail spending. Borrowing and debts can be allowed to accumulate for a few years, provided the providers of the funds 'continue to play ball', but as is usual (and I without apology slip into 'political mode') under a Labour government we have over the past 13 years tested that policy to destruction and landed ourselves with absolutely enormous levels of debt that will remain with us until well into the adulthood and probably middle- and later-years of youngsters such as Fiona.

I hate to be harsh, but people get the governments and local councils they vote for and deserve. All political parties (including the one I might be more inclined to support) promise electorates a lot when they need their votes in the run-up to elections and avoid too much mention of how all the 'largesse' they offer is to be paid for. The Labour Party is always a 'tax and spend' outfit which has ALWAYS (and I repeat, ALWAYS) left the country with more debt on leaving office than existed when it arrived in office and whilst it is perhaps too early to judge, the SNP is probably in the same mould - it is definitely a left-of-centre political party, just as is the Liberal Democrat Party. It is perhaps too early to judge the SNP completely because they operate currently under a very-limited electoral mandate. It is not inevitable that a political party seeking 'separation/independence' (a policy I do not support, of course) should be left-of-centre, but that is what the SNP is in my estimation and in that of most other objective observers. Personally I would be much more open to SNP ideas if it was rather more centrist or centre-right in its political outlook and willing to propose policies based on sound economics, rather than simply going down the typical left-of-centre route of promising the electorate more of everything whilst promising that taxes will not be raised, or that only the mythical 'rich' will be squeezed until the pips squeak.

So perhaps, if I may, I'd like to encourage younsters like Fiona to pursue her laudable aim, but perhaps also to encourage her parents and her school-chums' parents to consider carefully how they cast their votes at the coming election. Even more important, youngsters like Fiona need to realise that it is the votes of adults over the past 20 years that have landed us with the spend-thrift Labour government we have and which has grown national debt hugely and left nothing in reserve to cope with the occasional economic downturn, a major example of which the world is currently expriencing and which, along with the basic level of debt, is necessitating the cuts in spending that might see the Nairn swimming pool have to close. Perhaps, too, when Fiona and her friends reach voting age, presumably in approximately 10 years, I hope they can consider that whichever political party they do decide to vote for, offers policies based on sound economics, not on the never-never mentality offered by Labour and potentially too by the SNP. I doubt if Labour ever could be reformed, because hopelessness at running an economy is in its genetic make-up, but perhaps if it has to be the SNP that youngsters in Scotland end up supporting they can use their influence to steer the Party toward sounder economics. Obviously I'd prefer if they voted Conservative, but I am nothing if not realistic and reasonably pragmatic - an SNP based on sound economics, even with its core policy which I oppose strongly, would be far better than it ending up as a Scottish version of Labour's socialist debt-creating nightmare.

That's the real campaign that Fiona and her chums need to fight.

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