The impact of years of austerity is now poised to hit home on local services across Scotland with many facing the axe or increased charges, a new report has warned.
Social care, bin collections and cleaning are among the areas which have previously been at the centre of concerns. Local charges, which could cover leisure centres, school meals and parking, are also in danger of going up, according to the report by Fiscal Affairs Scotland.
Councils’ budgets will be 10 per cent lower this year than the level six years ago when the austerity cuts were first introduced.
“It is increasingly hard to see how the continued delivery of many of Scotland’s key public services can be achieved by local authorities,” said report author Jo Armstrong.
Local government did receive a small increase in funding to £10.5 billion, but has suffered major cuts in recent years.
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The report yesterday entitled Local Government Funding Challenges warns that demand for services is growing and councils’ ability to meet this will be “severely tested”.
“Seeking to charge service users more may be one option available to local authorities to help fill any funding gaps although, to date, these have not markedly increased,” it said.
“What seems more likely, perhaps, is that non-statutory services will be at even greater risk, as will paying for service quality levels that are deemed to be over and above the minimum necessary.”
Leisure centre, museum and gallery admissions and school meals are among things councils can charge for. Meals on wheels, licence applications and parking permits are also paid for, along with pest control and statutory repairs. Charges are also made for care services depending on the ability of the person in question to pay.
Local authorities have been warning of major cuts for months. Glasgow has been forced to find £100m in savings over the next three years, with similar stories around the country.
Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson said last night said the SNP government has “prioritised” other spending, like the NHS, over local services.
“We know that the Scottish Government has saved the biggest cuts for the years to come,” he said.
David O’Neill, president of local government umbrella body Cosla, said councils do their best to “protect frontline services”.
But he added: “This is getting tougher every year and really, really tough decisions are having to be taken by Scotland’s councils.”
Dave Watson, Scottish organiser of Unison, said: “The brunt of austerity cuts are being dumped on councils including four out of five job losses. The consequences of these cuts and the regressive council tax freeze is that councils are being forced to abandon non-statutory services and are increasing charges for those least able to meet the cost.”
A government spokesman said: “Scottish councils continue to get a good deal from the Scottish Government, despite the impact of the UK government’s cuts to the Scotland’s budget.”