Scottish Budget: Essential council services 'may stop altogether' with local authorities at 'breaking point' due to SNP/Green budget
COSLA, the representative body for all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, furiously criticised the details of John Swinney’s budget, claiming the £550m extra from the Scottish Government for local government was in fact worth just £71m in cash terms.
This, representatives said, means some council services could be forced to stop in order to meet the increased cost caused by inflation and years of cuts to council budgets. The prospect of significant, double-figure increases to council tax in April to meet funding challenges was also rejected by COSLA.
Councils provide the majority of local services such as running schools, leisure centres, bin collections, as well as maintaining the majority of roads and local public transport services such as buses.
Leaders across all political parties expressed their anger at the way the budget had been presented by the Scottish Government at a COSLA meeting on Friday morning, criticising how the increase to council funding was presented as “lack[ing] consistency with a partnership approach”.
A ‘budget reality’ document prepared by COSLA states the increase to revenue funding was presented to be £498m, but was actually just £71m due to it including £322m of ringfenced funding for Scottish Government priorities. These include free school meals programmes and recurring funding for pay deals, alongside the devolution of empty property relief to local government.
A further £80m has been provided to council capital budgets to pay for the expansion of the free school meals programme, with a total capital budget of £706m compared to £626m last year. This, council chiefs said, results in a flat cash and therefore real terms cut to council budgets.
COSLA resources spokesperson, councillor Katie Hagmann who represents the SNP in Dumfries and Galloway said council services will be left at “absolute breaking point” with some being forced to stop altogether due to the lack of funding.
She said: “This is a result of cuts to our Councils’ core budgets and direction on spend towards other Scottish Government priorities over the last few years. Yesterday’s budget announcement compounds this and there is a real risk that many of our essential services will not only be cut but may have to stop altogether.
“Council Leaders were unanimous today that we need to work together, with one Local Government voice, to raise our concerns at the highest level.
COSLA President, also an SNP councillor in Moray Council, Shona Morrison, attacked her own party’s political decisions, stating requests for £1bn in extra funding for councils had been rejected.
She also poured cold water on the prospect of double-digit increases to council tax, stating scope for such rises would be “extremely limited”. She said: “Whilst the decision to allow councils the freedom to set their own council tax rates is welcomed, scope will be extremely limited this year, as councils seek to protect the most vulnerable in our communities, recognising the cost-of-living crisis.”
Independent councillor in Orkney and COSLA vice president, Steven Heddle, attacked what he labelled “political choices” by the Scottish Government. He said: “Cuts to our core budget hit the most vulnerable in our communities the hardest and are damaging to our workforce – Scottish Government needs to consider this seriously. That is why Council Leaders were unanimous today that we must fight for a fairer settlement.”
However, in a statement released prior to the council leader’s meeting, the SNP’s local government convener and leader of Midlothian council, Kelly Parry, said she “truly appreciate[d]” the “SNP Scottish Government prioritising local authorities” despite the “constraints of Westminster control”.
She said: “Councils across Scotland will benefit hugely from the SNP Government's decision to go beyond the commitments made in the Resource Spending Review and provide over £550 million funding for local government compared to the RSR position."There is no doubt that this Budget takes place at a time of enormous challenge, created by Westminster economic mismanagement and Brexit, causing the cost of living crisis, which is now putting huge strain on council services.
"At national and local level, the SNP in government will continue to do all it can with all that we have, to help people cope through this crisis and protect essential services and this budget settlement for local government will help in that endeavour - however, it is clear that we could do so much more for people and communities across Scotland with the full powers and resources of independence."
The Scottish Government was contacted for comment.
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