Holyrood faces campaign to scrap Barnett formula

COUNCIL leaders in England are to campaign for Scotland’s block grant to be cut.

The LGA has confirmed it will press the Treasury to create a new system of sharing funding across the UK. Picture: PA

Local government chiefs south of the Border say they are envious of the powers and funding given to a devolved Scotland and have revealed they will push for the UK Treasury to scrap the Barnett formula, the system that gives Scotland more per head of UK funds than it does to England and Wales.

However, the move has prompted claims from nationalist figures that a No vote to independence next year could leave the country powerless to stop a “raid” on its schools, health and transport budget.

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Sir Merrick Cockell, head of the Local Government Association (LGA) in England, has claimed that his counterparts in Scotland are “in wide-eyed disbelief” at the cuts English councils are having to accept, compared to those they are having to implement.

His comments follow this summer’s spending review in which Scotland avoided the worst of fresh cuts, compared to a further 10 per cent cut to English local government.

Cockell said that with the Scottish Government told it will be given more powers – even if people vote against independence next year – English councils had to campaign for their interests.

He said: “We need to ask; if we are taking dramatically bigger cuts spending review after spending review, and the other nations are getting freed from over-centralised control, what are we in England getting out of devolution? Well the answer is, not enough.

“I know that none of us want to hold the other nations back but we need equity and fairness throughout the United Kingdom.”

The LGA has confirmed it will press the Treasury to create a new system of sharing funding across the UK which would be likely to reduce the £30 billion block grant that Scotland receives each year to spend on schools, hospitals and roads.

His comments led SNP figures to warn last night that a No vote next year would leave Scotland “politically powerless” against such calls.

SNP figures close to First Minister Alex Salmond argue that, after a No vote, ministers in London will have no reason any more to fear a nationalist backlash, and will therefore no longer be afraid of finding savings.

Derek Mackay MSP, SNP business convener and local government minister, said: “The danger of a No vote is that it would be followed by a raid on Scotland’s budget and Westminster imposing even bigger spending cuts north of the Border in future.”

He added: “Scotland has a choice of two futures next September – a No vote threatens the budget on which our vital public services depend, and Scotland would be politically powerless to stop it. Given that Scotland more than pays its way in the UK, far better to be in charge of all our tax and spending, so that we can invest in the things that really matter by voting Yes.”

Cockell told a conference earlier this month: “Every year I meet my opposite numbers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they listen to us in wide-eyed disbelief at the budget cuts we are enduring and they are not.”

He said he would demand funding for the UK based on the needs of communities.

Treasury data for the year 2011-12 shows that public spending per head in Scotland was £10,088 per person, compared to £8,745 for the UK.

A UK government spokesman said: “This government’s focus is on winning the referendum. This government is committed to devolution because we know that the UK is greater than the sum of its parts and we are all stronger, safer and better together.”