Derek Mackay has said that councils may have to make reductions to frontline services as he was told of “horrific cuts” to schools in Scotland.
The finance secretary insisted that the overall money going to councils in Scotland is rising in his proposed budget for 2019-20. But much of it is tied to central government initiatives – and town halls may be left to face cuts in other areas.
Scots were warned to expect a hike in the charges they face for activities like junior swimming, hiring football pitches and visiting museums amid growing concern over the funding settlement for next year.
“As to the questions of will they[councils] have to make efficiencies? Yes – so will the Scottish Government, so will other parts of the public sector,” Mr Mackay told Holyrood’s local government committee yesterday.
“We all have to make choices and priorities in the context of continuing UK austerity delivered by the Conservatives.”
He insists that the overall cash going to councils is rising by over £400 million, representing a “real terms” increase of 2 per cent.
Councils says this includes central government initiatives covering areas like sanitary towels (£3m), Frank’s Law (£30m), health and social care integration (£120m) childcare expansion (£234m.) Their “core” budgets for areas they have control over is down by more than £250m.
But Mr Mackay said: “I don’t think you can separate out this issue of core and other things.
“Early learning and childcare, general welfare, social care are partnership priorities and are functions of local government already. How can you describe that as anything other than core to what their duties are?”
The finance secretary added: “What the public will want to know is is that more money or is it less and in fact this proposes more money for local government in cash terms and in real terms.”
But Labour’s Alex Rowley, a former leader of Fife council, said that the Kingdom is facing a £4m cut to education budgets in the current year.
“Secondary schools across Fife are being forced to take a cut of about £2m of that,” Mr Rowley said.
“As a result of that, parent councils are now coming together, campaigning together, because the impact that that cut is having on frontline learning and teaching is horrific.”
This includes no supply cover being provided when teachers are off sick, he said, adding: “The public are hearing this debate about whether it’s a cut or not a cut, but they know their kids are going into schools and those schools are having real terms cuts that are impacting on their education.”
Cosla Resources spokeswoman Gail Macgregor earlier told MSPs that fees for services like junior swimming, football pitch hire and other service may have to rise.
She warned the “list is endless” and it may reach a “tipping point” where people are put off using services.
Green MSP Andy Wightman added: “No-one’s fooled by Mr Mackay’s claims of extra cash while they’re also hearing about real world cuts being proposed to vital local services like education, social care and community facilities as a direct result of his budget plans.”
The Greens are demanding a commitment by the SNP to axe the council tax before they will support the Scottish Government budget.