THIS week, this paper reported that hundreds of people died in Glasgow last year as a result of air pollution.

These facts are staggering and that’s before considering the huge numbers of people who will have existing conditions – like asthma and others – who will have to live with the impacts.

Back in 2018, Glasgow Labour joined calls for bolder action to be taken, reclaim the city centre for pedestrians and active travel and bring down levels of air pollution far more quickly, because this is a massive public health issue.

Recognising the challenge, the Centre for Cities called for the UK Government to introduce an Environmental Improvement Bond.

The logic is simple: if left unchecked, this public health crisis across the country will increase demand on the National Health Service.

So, give some of the cash that would be saved by the NHS to Councils to get the necessary investment going.

Public Health England estimates that there could be around 2.5million new cases of coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer among other health conditions if air pollution levels remain the same for 15 years.

Whilst that statistic relates to England, and in Scotland we have somewhat stricter standards, it leads me to consider the role that our cities – the places where we live and work – have on our health.

Let me lay out one example. Almost 40% of people living in Greater Glasgow do not meet recommended levels of weekly exercise.

We know that just a modest increase in physical activity brings benefits and improves healthy life expectancy and we know that healthy eating generally starts in nurseries and schools; that Glasgow Life provide sports facilities across the city; and that getting people out of their cars is a mixture of public transport provision, street design and other incentives.

In short, all of these responsibilities, and costs, lie with Glasgow City Council. If we get them right, and increase physical activity, it’s the NHS that breathes a sigh of relief.

But after a decade of cuts, especially to Glasgow, we find ourselves in a situation where almost 50% of public spending in Scotland goes on the NHS. If we invest in local services, we reduce demand on other parts of the public sector.

It’s long-term, joined up thinking that’s needed. We’ve all heard the truism that prevention is better than cure.

So let’s put that into practice and for a lot of our country’s challenges, it’s local government that’s best placed to prevent.

Next week, the SNP Government will publish its budget and if it’s serious about tackling the challenges we face as a country, it needs to show it.

It needs to put money where its mouth is, and into the hands of local government.

As to whether that’s through innovative funding mechanisms, or through the normal arrangements, I’m indifferent but if we want an actual solution to the problems that blight our communities, we need to invest much more in our local councils.