Cosla: Swinney accused of trying to punish councils

JOHN Swinney has been accused of a “politically motivated ploy” to divide Scotland’s councils after setting out plans for a raft of multi-million pound funding cuts to authorities yesterday.

Those who quit Cosla claim Finance Minister is biased towards Central Belt. Picture: Neil Hanna
Those who quit Cosla claim Finance Minister is biased towards Central Belt. Picture: Neil Hanna

The move has prompted fresh claims of “Central Belt bias” from Aberdeen after the figures showed the Granite City stands to lose out to the tune of £7.3 million under provisional budgets for 2015-16.

The Scottish Government says it is only accepting the funding formula backed by council leaders last year.

Three of the four councils quitting umbrella body the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) are poised to suffer multi-million pound cuts under the plans.

The split in Cosla’s ranks has developed over how Scottish Government funding is distributed. Some Labour councillors believe Cosla has failed to stand up for them.

Cosla leaders backed a “flat share” increase in funding last September instead of a “needs-based” settlement taking into account changes in population and deprivation.

Aberdeen, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire are among those which will lose out to the tune of £8.5m – weeks after they announced they would be quitting Cosla.

However, Swinney’s surprise decision to publish detailed figures on how each council would fare under either scenario has prompted a backlash among leaders who say it will heighten tensions.

Stephen McCabe, the Labour leader of Inverclyde Council, said yesterday: “It’s a deliberate political ploy by Mr Swinney to divide local government – there’s no doubt in my mind.”

Labour council leaders pushed through a motion last September backing a flat share increase to reflect the freeze in the council tax, as opposed to a needs-based uprating.

McCabe added: “When you take a decision in principle, some councils win, some lose.”

He said Swinney’s decision, after lobbying by other council leaders, showed the Finance Secretary “never respects the decision of Cosla leaders”.

Willie Young, Labour finance convener on Aberdeen City Council, said eyebrows will be raised that three councils leaving Cosla are losing out.

“John Swinney has said that Aberdeen is due an extra £7.3m and we welcome that. But he’s also saying we’re not going to get it because he’s hiding behind Cosla.

“This settlement covers the period when Aberdeen will have left Cosla, and this is why we’re leaving, so we can deal with him direct.”

Aberdeen’s funding payout would have been £323.3m, had the settlement been adjusted in line with local needs. The flat share settlement sees this fall by £7.3m to £316m.

Inverclyde’s settlement will fall by about £1m to £158.6m, while Renfrewshire’s drops £330,000 to £294m.

Glasgow and Edinburgh are due to enjoy a rise of £28m between them.

“We keep saying there’s Central Belt bias and it’s becoming more obvious,” Young added.

“This is why we came out of Cosla, and John Swinney is just hiding behind Cosla to impose this cut on Aberdeen.”

Swinney’s letter to councils yesterday sets out the detail for the funding settlement for all 32 councils for 2015-16. It means they will effectively receive the same share of funding as 2014-15. In all, 20 councils lose out against the proposed figures for the needs-based system.

The Finance Secretary says in his letter he has accepted Cosla leaders’ “majority decision” on the issue.

But he adds: “My preference will always be to have a fair and equitable settlement for all councils that is based on local needs and gives the maximum opportunity to deliver strong local services for local people.”