Economic think-tank the Fraser of Allander Institute and the impartial Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice) said the Government’s 2017-18 draft budget counted money for local government social care which had already been allocated in the health budget.
Elaine Smith, the deputy convener of Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee, asked the minister: “If it’s going to be counted in local government, should it also then be counted in health?”
Mr Mackay replied: “The position is that the transfer that exists from health to social care is the same as in previous years. There’s no double counting in that it’s certainly part of local government services.”
Committee convener Bob Doris said Spice claimed core funding to local government would be cut by 1.6 per cent in real terms compared to last year’s draft budget, but Mr Mackay said other funds for local government services would mean a £240 million increase in total, or 2.3 per cent.
He agreed to write to the committee outlining in one place every budget line where the Scottish Government claims additional cash is going to local authorities, at Mr Doris’s request, who questioned whether the current set-up was “needlessly complex”.
Mr Mackay said: “What are communities most interested in? It’s the totality of the package to their community. It’s what are you investing in schools, what are you investing in social care partnerships? What is the range of resource going to the local authority and on that, that’s where I can reach the figure of £240 million, a 2.3 per cent increase.”
He added that it could not be “discounted as an accountancy exercise”.
Mr Doris said the Parliament had to “do better” on how it examines public funds to councils.
He said: “I think this committee is becoming increasingly aware that there is a huge amount of monies swirling about the local authority area.
“The Education Committee, I would imagine, would look at the attainment fund cash and how that’s spent - £120 million. We’ve got a Health Committee looking at £357 million of health and social care integration funds, we’ve got City Deals out there and a variety of other spends.
“We’re just conscious as a committee we’re not quite sure who’s doing the scrutiny - a consolidated piece of work - on the financial position of local authorities and the support provided to them.
“That information you are going to provide us will be a good starting point, but I think we have to do better as a Parliament on how well we follow the public pound at local authority level.”
Mr Mackay said audit agencies would also scrutinise the spending of local authorities, “so they certainly are held to account for what they spend”.