Scots frontline services face perfect storm of cuts, warn council chiefs

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Finance Secretary Derek Mackay. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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Frontline services across Scotland like roads, employment support, libraries and museums will be hit in a “perfect storm” of funding cuts, town hall chiefs have warned.

More than £250 million will be cut from council budgets as a result of the Scottish Government’s budget for 2019/20 set out by Finance Secretary Derek Mackay in December, it has been claimed.

Ministers insist that the overall cash going to councils – including funds for central government initiatives – is on the rise.

But this is coming at the expense of “essential services”, local government body Cosla has warned in a submission to Holyrood’s local government committee.

Councils have seen their day-to-day revenue budgets fall by more than £1.6 billion since the start of the decade, Cosla says, and past “efficiencies” to protect services have already been made.

“Cuts to previously protected services will be inevitable,” the submission stated.

“This is already emerging in those councils with higher rates of deprivation.”

Cosla’s resources spokeswoman Gail Macgregor will set out concerns as she appears before MSPs on the committee today.

Savings can now only be made from an “ever decreasing portion of the budget,” the Cosla submission states. It adds: “There is no room left for manoeuvre.”

Councils across the country are facing a cash reduction of £237m to their revenue budgets in next year’s settlement, while capital budgets are down £17m.

“This draft settlement will impact on jobs, frontline services and economic growth,” the statement adds.

The growing level of “ring-fenced” funding in the 2018/19 budget also means that savings could only be made to 42 per cent of the budget, which will “amplify” the impact of cuts and undermine local democratic choice.

Councils say they have suffered a “disproportionate” cut to their budgets since 2013/14, suffering a 6.3 per cent greater cuts than the Scottish Government’s overall funding reduction. Since 2011/12 core local government budgets have decreased by £1.64bn in real terms, according to Cosla.

Ministers say that council budgets will increase by £163m under the funding settlement, but Cosla insists this includes £400m of central government policies, including the extension of early learning and childcare to 1140 hours (£234m) and new counsellors in schools (£12m).

“This perfect storm of reductions, national priorities and protections will have a fundamental impact on the ability of local authorities to invest in people, places and inclusive growth,” Cosla adds.

“This undermines local democratic accountability when councils’ space to make decisions about designing and delivering services locally is increasingly reduced and constrained.”

And it added that the cap on council tax increases of 3 per cent would have a “significant impact on a council’s ability to raise additional revenue to mitigate the impact of cuts to our communities”.

Funding for local government will total £11.1bn in next year’s budget.