Scottish councils need £1 billion extra funding to ‘survive’, Cosla warns

Urgent extra funding of more than £1 billion is needed for councils in the coming Scottish Budget for local authorities to “survive”, Cosla has warned.

The umbrella body for local authorities in Scotland said councils needed an increase of £720 million “just to stand still”, and warned mandatory pledges made by the Scottish Government would have to be abandoned if more money was not provided in December’s budget.

It also called for councils to have tax raising powers, such as local council tax, the workplace parking levy or a visitor tax in tourist areas, to provide more flexibility in their budgets following real-term cuts to the core budgets of Scotland’s 32 councils in recent years.

A report published by Cosla on Monday said to “survive”, Scottish councils need a total of £12.07bn – more than a billion pounds more than the £11bn provided by the revenue settlement in 2020/21.

Councils, like Edinburgh council, above, have had their budgets cut by the Scottish Government in recent years.

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The document warned local government could no longer continue to be the “poor relation” it has been in recent Budgets. Finance secretary Kate Forbes is due to deliver the Scottish Budget on December 9.

Cosla’s resources spokesperson, Councillor Gail Macgregor, said initiatives promised by the Scottish Government, such as free musical instrument tuition in schools, were something that councils had previously funded, but had to cut.

She warned communities are “starting to show the neglect of an under-funded local government”.

Cllr Macgregor said: “At what point do you have to go back to government and say ‘we cannot deliver on this policy initiative – we simply can’t afford it’?

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"Music instruction and school clothing grants are good things for Scottish Government to be funded, but they are things we were funding before and we would have continued to fund if we’d had sufficient budget to do so.””

Cllr Macgregor said roles which had previously been cut due to a lack of revenue reduction, such as environmental health officers, were having to be backfilled to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, as the same time that councils were losing revenue at facilities such as leisure centres.

She said: “We have ongoing loss of income. We know the confidence of people going back to leisure centres and community facilities is lower than it was.”

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Cosla president, Cllr Alison Evison, said: “Enabling people to live well locally is something that a modern, civilised country should be able to do automatically, but takes, of course, funding. Only properly funded local government can make this possible at a local level.”

Cosla also pointed to the difficulties faced by councils of one-year Budgets, when officials had to prepare for a range of different possible budget cuts on an annual basis and called for more long-term clarity from the Scottish Government.

The UK Government recently announced a three-year spending review.

Scottish Conservatives local government spokesman Mile Briggs said: “Councils can ill-afford another year of having to choose between what crucial day-to-day services to cut, or be forced into raising people’s council tax bills.”

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Scottish Labour’s finance spokesperson Daniel Johnson said: “After years of neglect, councils are struggling to stay afloat. There is no hiding the truth – across Scotland libraries are closing, bins are overflowing, schools are understaffed and roads are covered in potholes."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The 2022-23 Scottish Budget is expected to be a challenging budget as Scotland continues its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic without any COVID-19 funding from the UK Government.”

“Decisions on local government budget allocations for future years are subject to the outcome of the on-going negotiations with COSLA, the results of which will be confirmed in the Scottish Budget on 9 December. However, despite successive cuts and austerity policies from the UK Government impacting on Scotland’s public finances, we have continued to treat local government very fairly, with councils’ revenue funding having increased in cash terms by £1.3 billion or 12.1 per cent between 2013-14 and 2021-22.”

He added: “The 2022-23 Scottish Budget will focus on delivering the new Programme for Government, reflecting challenges facing households, communities and businesses as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.”

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