Nicola Sturgeon has insisted that councils are “equal and indispensable partners” to the Scottish Government.
The First Minister’s remarks at local government body Cosla’s annual conference followed a warning from the organisation’s president over the centralisation of power to Edinburgh.
The conference comes at a time when council leaders have been left angered by government plans to use the extra £100 million which could be raised through council tax reforms to fund education, amid fears of an erosion of local accountability.
Local authorities have also expressed ongoing concern about the prospect of further cuts to their budgets.
Ms Sturgeon insisted disputes between national and local government centred around “means” and not “objectives” as she opened by highlighting areas of joint working, including social care workers being given the living wage, city region deals for Aberdeen and Inverness, the resettlement of Syrian refugees and discussions around Brexit.
“We share the same ambitions – for stronger communities, a fairer society and a thriving economy,” she said.
“Yes, we have our differences and we shouldn’t seek to ignore that. Our current discussions on council tax and the education attainment fund demonstrate that. But these differences often tend to be about means, and not objectives.
“I also think we should remind ourselves that more unites us than divides us.
“For that reason, the Scottish Government knows that Cosla is and always will be an essential and equal partner in creating that fairer and more prosperous country that we want to see.
“I know that you are indispensable partners.”
The First Minister was challenged in the conference hall by councillors, who complained that national government had sought to control how councils spend their cash while slashing budgets.
Jane Maitland, an independent councillor from Dumfries and Galloway, said: “Are we essentially equal, comparative partners when you decide what we spend – you decide how we raise it, you’re going to decide what the council tax increase should be and actually you’re also going to tell us where central government will instruct us to spend it.”