Vital public services such as education, social care and roads maintenance across Scotland are “shrinking” and the situation will worsen without a half-billion pound cash injection next year, council leaders have said.
There is even a stark warning that flagship plans to introduce a system of effective full-time childcare in Scotland could be under pressure if town halls are faced with fresh cuts when finance secretary Derek Mackay sets out his budget next month.
Council chiefs are now in talks with political leaders at Holyrood about an overhaul of the way they are funded.
Children’s services, rubbish disposal, libraries and leisure centres are among the areas which could be hit unless an extra £549 million is found by ministers, council body Cosla warns.
About £1.64bn has been cut from town hall budgets in real terms since 2012, according to a paper published today by Cosla entitled Fair Funding for Essential Services 2019-20.
It reveals that 15,000 council staff have been axed as local authorities are forced to cut back.
Cosla’s resources spokeswoman Gail Macgregor said: “The reality is that at grass roots it’s meant that our community centres have had a shortening of their opening hours, our libraries have had a shortening of their opening hours, many of the services we have been delivering, that are vital to our communities, are shrinking year on year.
“Our community wardens are being stripped back, our classroom assistants – things that aren’t protected are the very things that sit at the heart of communities.”
Councils had issued a similar call for about £545m, but received a rise of £172m and this means “pain” on the frontline, Ms McGregor added.
Councils say £255m is needed to meet rising demand for services like social care as the population ages, while a further £294m is needed just to keep up with inflation.
Flagship Scottish Government policies such as the expansion of free childcare to 1,140 hours – mirroring the primary school term – must be funded with separate cash, councils are warning. Ministers have pledged to fully fund the expansion from 600 hours with £210m of extra cash. But Cosla warns that this only covers the expansion aspect, while the 600 hours currently provided comes from core budgets, which would come under pressure if Mr Mackay doesn’t deliver in his budget.
Cosla president Alison Evison said: “There is nothing left to give without a detrimental effect on services.”
The SNP’s usual budget partners, the Greens, are warning they will not support next month’s budget without an overhaul of the way councils are funded, with some local authorities like Edinburgh pushing for a “tourist tax”.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Councils provide a range of essential local services. Despite continued UK government cuts to Scotland’s budget, we have treated local government very fairly – and in the current financial year they received a real terms boost in both revenue and capital funding.
“We have made clear we are open to further dialogue on options for local tax reform.
“The finance secretary will present the Scottish Government’s tax plans in the Scottish Budget later this year.”