SCOTLAND’S councils yesterday rejected John Swinney’s attempts to strong arm them into accepting the council tax freeze by threatening to withdraw tens of millions of pounds of funding.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) condemned the funding package offered by the Finance Secretary as “totally unacceptable and an affront to local democracy”.
Cosla members voted against controversial demands made by Mr Swinney as four of the largest councils questioned the legality of what he is trying to do.
The leaders of Glasgow City, Aberdeen City, Renfrewshire and South Lanarkshire councils are seeking legal advice on the measures he is seeking to impose.
With local government already facing a 3.5 per cent cut of £350 million for 2016-17, Mr Swinney is trying to get councils to sign up to a package that would see the cash allocated to them cut if they failed to maintain the council tax freeze, retain teacher/pupil ratios or integrate health and social care.
A total of £408m has been set aside by the Scottish Government to finance his plans. Mr Swinney, however, has said the cash would be clawed back from any council that failed to deliver.
Glasgow would be in line to lose £45m and Edinburgh City council £33m, if they did not meet the terms set by Mr Swinney.
At a Cosla meeting of council leaders in Edinburgh yesterday 21 local authorities voted against Mr Swinney’s proposal, outnumbering the seven SNP-led councils who backed it.
Cosla president Councillor David O’Neill said: “Cosla has rejected the package of measures for local government as totally unacceptable and an attack on our democratic mandate.”
Meanwhile the Scottish Local Government Partnership (SLGP), which represents the non-Cosla councils of Glasgow, Aberdeen, Renfrewshire and South Lanarkshire, said it was consulting its lawyers.
Specifically, the four want to find out whether Mr Swinney has the right to direct the activities of joint boards which are being set up to oversee the integration.
Mr Swinney said: “This is a deal worth taking. Our funding proposals deliver a strong but challenging financial settlement for local government, despite cuts to the central budget by the UK government.