Council funding deal starts to unravel
A FUNDING deal between the Scottish Government and councils is fracturing within 24 hours of being signed after the country's biggest local authority described it as "undeliverable" and two others revealed they would be axing 2,400 jobs.
• John Swinney outlined cuts of 2.4 per cent for councils
Glasgow City Council put the first cracks in the 11 billion settlement signed off by finance secretary John Swinney on Wednesday by warning it would be impossible to meet a list of demands he has set in the face of his cutbacks.
They said they now faced an impossible choice between agreeing to a deal they believe to be unrealistic or, by knocking it back, having to raise council tax by as much as 20 per cent next year. A third option, the council says, would be to sack 2,000 frontline staff, including social workers, teachers and binmen.
The stark warning came as councillors in Aberdeen and neighbouring Aberdeenshire announced they will axe a total of 2,400 jobs over the next two years, with the council preparing to close schools, libraries, sack community wardens and reduce day care for the elderly.
The moves come 24 hours after Mr Swinney and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities agreed what they described as a "very good deal" for councils, when they backed a reduction in council budgets of 2.4 per cent next year.
The cut was less than expected but in return, Mr Swinney declared he wanted councils to freeze council tax, maintain police numbers at 1,000 above those in place four years ago, offer jobs to all new teachers, and cut unemployment among existing teachers.
In order to compel councils to take the deal, the SNP government said that those that knocked it back would face a far deeper cut of 6.4 per cent in their grant from ministers.
• Prisons, colleges and courts the big losers
• Museums and galleries 'worse off than in London'
Glasgow broke cover last night to declare the demands in the deal would be impossible to deliver. It also claimed that not one of Scotland's other 32 councils would be able to do so. The 2.4 per cent cut outlined by Mr Swinney will mean the total funds going from central to local government will fall by 450m next year, according to the Scottish Government's figures.
A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: "Particularly in education, some of it is undeliverable. Reducing unemployment among teachers and employing all probationary teachers is just not deliverable by any council. We can't create jobs without a being given a new pot of cash."
Council sources say they now face the choice of either implementing a deal they do not consider feasible or taking the nuclear option of accepting a 6.4 per cent cut.They claimed last night that such a cut would slash their budget by 50m, equivalent to an increase in council tax of 20 per cent or 2,000 compulsory redundancies.
The claim is set to lead to a stormy meeting of council chiefs today to discuss the deal. The job losses in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire confirmed last night that, despite the lower than expected cut, local authorities are still having to implement unheard of reductions in services.
Under the Aberdeenshire proposals, to be discussed at a meeting of the council on Thursday, 1,500 jobs - or one in ten of its workforce - will be axed including an estimated 500 teaching and support staff. An unspecified number of rural schools are expected to be closed along with some small rural libraries.
The administration is also proposing to transfer the running of the council's eight caravans parks, 16 village halls and two ski centres to community ownership. Swimming pool opening times will be reduced. Reductions in day care for adults are also being proposed as well as a review of staffing levels in residential care homes for the elderly.
Neighbouring Aberdeen City Council is set to shed 900 jobs - also a tenth of the workforce - over the next two years as part of a series of proposed budget cuts. Despite claims from Mr Swinney that he would stick by a policy of no compulsory redundancies, both local authorities have refused to rule out the possibility of having to sack staff.
Councillor Anne Robertson, leader of Aberdeenshire Council, said: "Aberdeenshire is projected to experience the highest growth in the elderly population in Scotland. This will require a shift in the kind of care we offer our service users and services will have to be redesigned and delivered in a different way … As we progress through this process it is likely we will have to consider stop doing things altogether. There is only so much you can chip away at services before they get to a position where they are not viable."
Aberdeen City Council leader John Stewart added: "This is an inevitable consequence when you look at the level of savings councils are going to have to make. You can stick your head in the sand and pretend it will be all right in a year, like the Scottish Government has done, or do what we have done."
A Scottish Government spokesman said last night: "The agreement with Cosla is a very good deal for councils and local communities under challenging circumstances."
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