A briefing report by The SANE Collective, June 2021
INTRODUCTION – WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT?
Glasgow Life runs libraries, community centres and sports facilities on behalf of Glasgow City Council, and during the pandemic lockdown in 2020/21, 101 out of 171 venues were closed for health & safety reasons. However, despite the lockdown ending, Glasgow Life made clear that in 2021/22 62 of the venues would remain closed because the “global pandemic of Covid-19 has forced significant changes to how Glasgow Life operates”.
Just four of the 62 venues are deemed unsuitable from a social distancing perspective, so the reason for their closure is not to do with health & safety restrictions. Instead, Glasgow Life – which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the council – is struggling financially. It lost a significant revenue stream (in a normal year worth £37.5 million in total) when the venues closed, and that money has not fully been made up with increased Glasgow City Council financial support, reducing Glasgow Life’s ability to finance all of its venues. Glasgow Life has claimed that “should more money become available, we would examine what further venues could be reopened”.
However, rather than searching for additional cash, the council and Glasgow Life are exploring offloading these venues permanently, through the People Make Glasgow Communities Scheme.
- The continued closure of Glasgow Life venues is a cost-cutting exercise by Glasgow City Council and is a choice, not a necessity.
- The majority of the closed venues are in areas among the 20% most deprived in Scotland. The council’s own equality impact assessment of the closures found that there is potential for “displacement” of vulnerable service users, and questioned whether the closures fell foul of the council’s human rights obligations.
- The potential offloading of the venues through the People Make Glasgow Communities scheme is part of a long-term land & property strategy to reduce the council’s assets to raise money for more “high quality” investments in commercialised assets like the SSE Hydro.
- Glasgow City Council is under significant financial pressure, partly due to an unfair funding settlement from the Scottish Government, as Glasgow receives the lowest per head funding of any local authority in Scotland.
- Potentially 700 full-time equivalent jobs could be lost due to the closures, with no guarantees that potential new owners – whether they be community groups or commercial operators – will keep staff on or indeed continue to run local services in the venues as before.
- There is an alternative to the council’s plan: it could commit to investing in its existing assets as part of an industrial strategy to create more public-sector jobs rooted in local communities. Such an alternative strategy should be part of an alternative vision for the city which rejects the logic of neoliberal austerity.