Almost a decade of cuts to council budgets has led to a fall in education standards and a slump in users of museums and leisure centres, according to a new study.
The report by the Improvement Service yesterday said almost £1 billion has been axed from council revenue budgets since 2011, resulting in a real terms fall of 8.3 per cent.
Culture and leisure spending is down by 22 per cent, according to the National Benchmarking Overview of council performance for 2017/18. The report also warns spending on roads is down by 15 per cent while street cleaning has nose-dived by 30 per cent.
Spending on education and care has been relatively protected over this period and there has been measurable improvement in these areas since 2010/11.
Cosla president Alison Evison said councils had done “a remarkable job” in difficult circumstances.
“The problem now is that, as the report identifies, this will become increasingly difficult as budget cuts over a number of years begin to bite,” she said.
“What councils are continuing to achieve for communities is impressive considering the financial challenges we face – but obviously as today’s report clearly shows this is simply unsustainable in the longer term.”
Councils are facing another £230 million of cuts to their “revenue” budgets as a result of the 2019/20 Scottish budget, despite an extra £90m being found in last week’s budget deal with the Greens.
Ms Evison said: “Scotland’s councils face really difficult choices and will have to take tough decisions in the months ahead, as the demand for our services and the reduction in funding clash head on.”
The report finds that academic attainment among school leavers from the most deprived areas in Scotland fell marginally for the first time since 2010/11.
The number of Scots using leisure services, swimming pools, libraries and museums fell for the first time last year, after a decade of steady rises.
“These may be ‘stress’ indicators and a sign that, after almost ten years, austerity is catching up with local service performance,” the report warns.
But at the moment these are one-year ‘blips’ and not trends, it adds.
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Local authorities have had a rotten deal for years under the SNP and now the consequences of that decade-long funding drain are clearer than ever.
“The limp SNP-Green budget deal last week won’t turn this around.
“The cracks are widening in local services. This report shows school budgets are being cut, local swimming pools and libraries are suffering, our streets are less clean and our roads are deteriorating.”
The report also points to “measurable improvement” in a number of areas since 2010/11, including an increase in the number of early learning and childcare registrations and primary pupils in Scotland by over 30,000.
Measures of educational outcome have shown substantial positive progress, particularly for children from the most deprived areas.
But the financial outlook remains bleak for councils in Scotland, with reductions earmarked for Scottish Government revenue funding to councils.
This will mean increasing financial pressures on council services, especially those that are not protected.