John Swinney hits back at council budget critics

Finance Secretary John Swinney said council criticism was "over the top'. Picture: PA

Finance Secretary John Swinney said council criticism was "over the top'. Picture: PA

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John Swinney has branded town hall critics of his £350 million cut to council budgets “over the top” as he appeared before MSPs.

The reaction of councils to the reduction was even dismissed as “hysterical” by one Nationalist MSP on Holyrood’s local government committee where the Deputy First Minister was giving evidence.

Trade unions and councillors are to stage a demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament today in opposition to the proposals which will be backed by MSPs when they vote on the 2016/17 Scottish budget this afternoon.

But Mr Swinney insisted that local authorities in Scotland have not fared as badly as councils south of the border in recent years.

The Deputy First Minister said council budgets were falling by less than 1% when £250million of additional funding to integrate health and social care services is taken into account.

“I think some of the talk that we’ve heard has been frankly over the top about the impact of the settlement on local government.

“I don’t underestimate the ongoing challenges in delivering public services within a constrained financial environment, but I have to take into account a whole range of different factors in setting the budget. I have to take into account the pressure there will be on household incomes, I have to take into account the extent of Government grant.”

• READ MORE: Councils say SNP cuts ‘would devastate our children

He added: “I think the settlement that has been offered to local government is a very credible settlement. I think it certainly does not merit the type of description it has had from certain voices within local authorities.”

Scotland’s councils are being forced to freeze the council tax, maintain teacher numbers in line with school rolls and commit to integrating health and social care as part of the settlement or face losing their share of a £408m funding pot being made available by the Scottish Government.

Nationalist committee member Willie Coffey said Welsh councils had suffered a 2% cut, but First Minister Carwyn Jones described them as being “well protected.”

“The narrative in Scotland has been hysterically the opposite of that,” Mr Coffey said.

Edinburgh council leader Andrew Burns launched a blistering attack on the cuts yesterday. The Labour councillor backed party leader Kezia Dugdale’s call for the Scottish Government to introduce a one pence tax hike in today’s budget to offset the reductions.

“I have just taken £85.4 million - I’ll say that again £85.4 million - out of our 2016/17 local budget,” he said.

“That’s a lot of money and a lot of service reductions. And I’ve done it under central diktat with no choice but to sign up to certain conditions and no genuine ability to raise alternative revenues.”

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