My thoughts on Public Services and Health

Centralisation of public services has been relentless over recent years. From policing and fire and rescue services to health, education and economic development, we have seen control and decision-making increasingly concentrated in the centre under the SNP.

The irony is that while debate has raged over what new powers should come to the Scottish parliament, at a local level powers have been steadily eroded.

As well as the SNP government’s £500m cut to Council budgets this year, an endless council tax freeze has removed local authorities’ ability to raise money, putting more pressure on services delivered locally by the public and voluntary sectors.

Liberal Democrats believe power is most safely exercised when it is shared. From growing up in Orkney, I know the importance of giving people and communities the tools they need to take decisions that directly affect their lives.

The truth is, Ministers don’t know best and a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works for rural or island communities. Sadly, though, that has been the reality under the SNP. It cannot continue.

Liberal Democrats want to see a move away from top down, centralising targets. Teachers, doctors, nurses and those delivering our public services must have more scope to exercise their judgment and base decisions on their expertise and circumstances.

In policing, genuine local accountability rather than budgets, strategy and priorities all being set centrally is required.

In education, we need investment not a return to national testing of primary pupils, which will lead to league tables rather than a closing of the gap in attainment. That is why Liberal Democrats propose a penny on income tax to invest an extra £475m in making our education system fit for the future.

This will deliver quality, accessible nursery education and childcare; provide additional funding in every classroom, raising standards and offering help where it is needed; repair the damage done to our colleges, where 150,000 places have been cut since 2007; and offer better grant support to students from less well-off backgrounds.

Education is key to what we want to be as a society and our success as an economy. This investment is therefore essential.

In health too, new thinking is needed. A welcome shift towards providing more care at home or within the community has not, unfortunately, been matched by the necessary shift in resources. That risks vulnerable people not getting the support they need.

Meanwhile, concerns have been raised that the new Balfour hospital may have insufficient capacity to meet future needs. That cannot be allowed to happen and assumptions about patient numbers and stays must be robustly challenged.

Finally, Liberal Democrats strongly believe mental health must now be put on an equal footing with physical health. This should be written into law and reflected in funding allocations.

Instead of ever-greater central control and budget cuts, our public services, and those in the public and voluntary sectors delivering them, need flexibility, certainty and investment. That is what I will fight to deliver.

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