How severe are the cuts facing Scottish councils?

Edinburgh City Chambers. The capital's local authority is facing funding cuts similar to other councils across Scotland
Edinburgh City Chambers. The capital's local authority is facing funding cuts similar to other councils across Scotland
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SCOTLAND’S 32 local authorities face an anxious wait ahead of next month’s spending review which is likely to result in severe cuts to council expenditure.

George Osborne will detail on November 25 how the UK Government will deliver its pre-election commitment to tackle the deficit.

The Chancellor has already indicated he wishes to reduce public spending further

Scottish Government spokesman

The expected reduction in public spending will impact on the block grant handed to the Scottish Government, and in turn, the funding for councils north of the border.

Council leaders, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and Holyrood ministers will then hammer out a deal in time for the Scottish Government’s budget act, which must be passed in time for the beginning of the new financial year beginning April 1.

But councils across the country are already preparing for the worst and drawing up plans to make substantial savings over the next two to three years.

A 2015 report by Audit Scotland said that in the context of overall reductions in public sector budgets, between 2010/11 and 2013/14, Scottish Government funding for councils decreased by 8.5 per cent in real terms to £10.3 billion.

The report found that Scottish councils’ total income in 2013/14 was £17.8 billion - the majority of which comes from Scottish Government funding and the rest from council tax, fees for services and housing rents.

Councils’ share of the Scottish budget has remained relatively constant over the last few years but overall reductions in public sector budgets means funding that councils receive from the Scottish Government has decreased.

Glasgow City Council, Scotland’s largest local authority, has said it may need to cut expenditure by seven per cent in the next two years.

It hopes to avoid any compulsory redundancies, with around 3000 members of staff expected to retire or leave to pursue alternative employment by 2017.

However, Edinburgh City Council has said it may need to scrap a similar commitment not to pursue compulsory redundancies as it pursues savings of £126 million over the next four years.

The council said its budget had fallen 14 per cent in real terms since 2010.

In Falkirk, councillors will be forced to choose from a “menu” of budget cuts to save at least £45 million over the next three years.

Across the Forth, Fife Council reportedly faces a £77 million shortfall over the same period.

The cut backs come at a time when demand for council services, especially for those used by the elderly, is increasing.

A spokeswoman for COSLA, which represents 28 of Scotland’s local authorities, said as councils were in the middle of spending review negotiations with Scottish Government at present it would be inappropriate to comment on any outcome at this stage.

The Scottish Government spokesman said it was fully committed to working in partnership with COSLA and was in regular contact with them on a range of issues, including future funding.

“The Scottish Government will not know what block grant will be available to Scottish ministers beyond the current financial year until the UK Government’s Spending Review on November 25,” the spokesman added.

“The Chancellor has already indicated he wishes to reduce public spending further, on top of existing cuts, so it is clear that we face significant austerity over the coming years. That is why we this week published proposals which would keep public finances on a sustainable footing while also allowing up to £150 billion in investment in public services across the UK over three years.”

The UK Government announced last month it plans to hand control of business rates to councils south of the border, allowing them to keep the proceeds.

But there are no signs that the Scottish Government will follow suit.

There also remains disquiet among local authority leaders over the eight-year council tax freeze, a key SNP manifesto pledge.