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Last-chance saloon for Glasgow

When near bankruptcy forced the last Labour government to cut spending, the consequences were easier to accept because the International Monetary Fund insisted on them. The combined forces of central and local government which are set to bail out Glasgow will also expect evidence that the city is putting its house in order. Increases in council tax will be kept within bounds but profligacy will be out of order.

The council leaders who reluctantly accepted a formula by which Glasgow and several other authorities should get a disproportionately high grant did so because they recognise that the unbalancing effects of local government reorganisation could not be eliminated after only two years. Glasgow in particular is still suffering from the politically driven changes which kept outwith its boundaries areas that might be rescued for the Conservative cause.

The political aim failed but the financial consequences go on. Residents of more prosperous areas like East Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire will accept a formula by which they continue to support the city rather than contemplate reabsorption within it. Many recognise that they use the city's services without contributing to them and that shorn of its better-off residents, its tax-raising capacity is severely limited.

But the last government cannot be blamed for ever. A new leadership appears to be emerging in Glasgow. Edinburgh was fortunate that former regional rather than district councillors have been in charge. For too long, as Labour has belatedly recognised, Glasgow has been inadequately run and even corruptly. The challenge for Frank McAveety and his allies is to show that there has been more than a shifting of seats among the Labour group in yet another round of infighting.

Here is where external support comes in. If financial help demands drastic action, the opportunity for real reform is finally at hand. The education reforms devised by Malcolm Green and Ken Corsar are not being promoted as the answers to financial crisis. But to carry them out demands the muscle only an external agent can bring to bear. Without school closures new money will be unavailable and budgets impossible to strike. Councillors who face re-election in 1999 must not shirk difficult decisions. Labour must be ready to lose seats to make Glasgow respectable.

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