Having enjoyed the delights of Christmas with friends and family, we now face another challenging year.
Despite the high numbers of Covid cases, its time for the nation to move on, learning to live with the virus.
Our vaccination program has been a great saviour and we need to appreciate those who worked in partnership to produce the vaccines. But, it’s well worth remembering those grossly overworked NHS staff who laboured night and day to administer them.
Over 150,000 hours have been lost due to frontline NHS staff suffering from mental health issues. They have been under sustained pressure for the last two years. That is unacceptable; a fact always ignored when politicians praise the success of the vaccine delivery.
Financial burdens are getting heavier
The new year presents some of the most serious challenges people have ever faced. The cost of heating our homes with gas and electricity is due to double by April. Current increases are already impacting on many homes where young families and older, retired people live.
That financial burden will stretch them beyond their present limits. The ever-increasing costs of petrol and diesel will inevitably push up the price of transporting goods, and ultimately the cost of living.
People are already experiencing this when doing their weekly shopping. There is little doubt food banks will be in greater demand than ever. Inflation will hit the pockets of everyone as we pay more to get less, not to mention the increase in National Insurance.
Our local authorities, whose budgets have been drastically cut over several years, should not be passing this onto the general public. Some councils are already considering a 5% tax rise. This would be catastrophic, as it would lead to even more hardship for those who can least afford it.
We need serious negotiations with energy companies to assist where required, whilst giving the regulator authority to hold down the financial cap
No one comes into politics to hurt those already under great financial stress.
A council tax increase will not save council services, as it raises less than 20% of the overall budget, whereas 85% of the local authority budget comes from government grants.
The solution comes back to the Scottish and UK Governments. It requires serious negotiations with energy companies to assist where required, whilst giving the regulator authority to hold down the financial cap. Funding from all the companies which did well during the Covid crisis, such as supermarkets, would also be a decent response.
Isn’t this an opportunity to get serious about the “green” agenda?
We are suffering from a lack of statesmanlike leadership
Regrettably, the UK Government has shown poor negotiating skills and demonstrated a lack of trust, which has left many of our traditional services and industries struggling. Our shabby Brexit deal is still unfinished, as the lack of lorry drivers and hospitality staff has shown.
The government in Scotland has been accused of failing to pass on the total monies given to it from Westminster – perhaps holding back sums for a “sometime” second referendum on independence, and the legal battle that will undoubtedly follow.
They should instead be helping the business community protect jobs, and those in greatest hardship, through the limited powers of borrowing which they already possess.
Nationwide, we are suffering from a lack of statesmanlike leadership. We don’t have the heavyweight politicians that we used to; those who could see beyond one term in office, and mapped out their vision for the country’s future.
And it’s not simply a matter of left or right. It’s about who will build the future for the four home nations.
Time to stop looking for situations and people to blame
There is no reason why each country can’t make the decisions that best suit them within the UK framework. But, people who live, work and create wealth throughout the countries need to have confidence in the direction of travel, and a belief that they will be listened to.
It’s imperative that the four home countries work together as a united force, rather than divide and dissolve into chaos.
Let’s get our country out of the doldrums and reinstated as an economic powerhouse where we look after each other, from the cradle to the grave
As the late Desmond Tutu’s teachings encouraged, we need unity in the face of adversity.
That requires the family of nations in the UK to talk with each other, including those of a different political persuasion. Not just the party faithful with whom they are friendly.
It is time to stop looking for situations and people to blame, and to begin working on a common plan to get our country out of the doldrums and reinstated as an economic powerhouse where we look after each other, from the cradle to the grave, and provide quality homes and jobs for our young people.
Len Ironside is a former champion wrestler who served as an Aberdeen councillor for 35 years, with four years as council leader