Cllr David Ross and Cllr David Alexander

This week (Wednesday 13) Fife Council’s Policy and Co-ordination Committee focussed on poverty and inequality, and how the council plans to work with partners and communities to shape local services for a better, fairer Fife.

Based on significant research and local consultations, the Fife Partnership has drafted a single 10-year plan to streamline its approach and make it easier to understand. The main aim is to put people and communities at the centre of all decision making. Committee Conveners Cllrs David Alexander and David Ross, who also Co-Chair the Fife Partnership, welcomed the Plan for Fife, which will now guide the work of all local agencies.

Cllr Alexander commented: “This plan will bring local public services, voluntary organisations and communities together to work towards a set of common aims. Collectively we have vast resources and a wealth of knowledge – with united, focussed effort, we can drive out inequality and improve lives.”

“We’re fiercely ambitious for Fife,” added Cllr Ross. “And we have to be, because right now far too many Fifers are living in poverty, and it’s just not right. Poverty isn’t someone else’s problem; it doesn’t just affect some individuals and families – it impacts on everyone. People can’t afford to pay their rent, they’re not spending in local shops and businesses, these in turn are shedding jobs or closing down, and our villages, towns and local services are suffering.

“We’re not aiming to be average, we want to really make a difference. We’re building on a good track record of partnership working and community engagement in Fife, but this plan is a commitment to do more, to do it better and to put fairness at the heart of everything we want to achieve.”

The committee also heard about the council’s response so far to the Fairer Fife Commission (which reported in November 2015). There’s a lot of work already underway. Behind the scenes Services are preparing to work in new ways and frontline staff have had poverty awareness training. On the ground, local projects have helped families feed their children over the summer holidays and new services are helping improve people’s mental health.

Cllr Alexander also welcomed new Scottish Government legislation which will place a duty on local authorities to reduce the negative impacts of socio-economic disadvantage, and pointed out that this means taking positive steps.

“A duty which will help us poverty-proof all our decisions can only be a good thing, especially with the spectre of Universal Credit and increased financial hardship looming for many Fifers.” he said. “But while we understand the challenges facing the council and communities, we’re talking about a lot of progressive and positive action.”

The Council’s Co-Leaders also acknowledged the vital strategic role the council has to play, both in delivering services directly and influencing the decisions of other organisations.

Cllr Ross said: “We’re actively working to create opportunities, employment and wealth.
“We’re promoting the Living Wage and apprenticeships, within the council and in businesses across Fife. And the Edinburgh and South East City Deal will help build a stronger business community in south and mid Fife by investing millions in commercial property over the next 10 years, which could create some 2,000 extra jobs. Increased employment brings personal benefits; more money, better health – but also wider community benefits; thriving economy, reductions in antisocial behaviour and crime.

“But to tackle the root cause of inequality long-term, we’re also asking if more fundamental shifts are needed in society.

“Fife has led conversations about a universal basic income and councillors agreed that officers should work on a proposal for a pilot in Fife. But we must be realistic, this is a very complex issue which will take years of investigation and ground work. We couldn’t pursue the concept of a basic income our own, but now have the backing of several councils and the Scottish Government, to help develop feasibility studies and a business case. A basic income also implies changes to taxation and benefit systems, which would need UK Government co-operation.

“It’s far too early to say where a pilot might happen – we don’t even know if it will be the right thing to try. But it could be a game changer, so we’re taking it seriously, because we know we have to try new things and learn as we go.”

The committee paper and associated background research report on basic income are available here:

Towards Universal Basic Income in Fife

Research Report Basic Income