Pressure grows on Holyrood to ensure major increase in council funding in next budget

Pressure is growing on the Scottish Government to ensure a major increase in council funding in its next budget as opposition parties yesterday drew clear red lines for forthcoming finance negotiations.

A Labour debate in the Scottish Parliament saw MSPs line up to demand more money for local authorities, as the minority SNP government plans its next round of spending.

According to Scottish Labour the Scottish Government has cut council budgets by seven per cent in real terms between since 2013, compared with a two per cent cut in its own funding over the same period. As a result, it claims “vital and essential services in local communities are being jeopardised”.

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Yesterday the party called for the government to commit to “provide investment in the services that communities need”, but the motion fell after the Scottish Greens abstained on the vote.

Nicola Sturgeon delivered the keynote address to the Wealth of Nations 2.0 Conference at Edinburgh University. Picture: WPA Pool/Getty Images

The Scottish Government has required the support of the Scottish Greens in the past three years to get its budget through Holyrood. Last year Economy Secretary Derek Mackay agreed to give government support to the introduction of tourist taxes and the workplace car park levy for councils, in order to get Green support.

Despite the Green MSPs abstaining on Labour’s motion, Patrick Harvie’s party also voted against the SNP amendment, which said councils had been given “a real terms increase of 2.4 per cent” – a result of the budget agreements struck between the two parties.

Yesterday, Labour’s local government spokesperson Sarah Boyack said: “The SNP has passed on cuts to local government at four times the rate of cuts to the Scottish Government’s budget. Local government is at breaking point. There is only one way to ensure we have councils fit to provide local services and tackle the issues of the day: the SNP must stop the cuts.”

Her party colleague, finance spokesperson Rhoda Grant added: “As we approach the publication of the Scottish Budget the message from Scottish Labour to the government is clear: stop the cuts to local government. Scotland’s councils and the communities that they serve have suffered for years at the hands of SNP austerity. It is high time the SNP government provided councils with the resources that they need and bring an end to the age of austerity for local government.”

The Holyrood debate came just days after Cosla stepped up its demands for more money for councils, with its president Alison Evison warning that budgets are “at breaking point”. Audit Scotland has also warned that councils are having to use their “rainy day” reserves more often as cuts continue to bite.

The Scottish Conservatives finance spokesperson, Murdo Fraser who has offered to work with the government in setting a budget, also called for an increase in funding for councils, and later said it was “disappointing that once again the SNP and Greens combine to prevent the Scottish Parliament voting to support more resources for Scottish local government.”

However Scottish Green MSP, Andy Wightman said neither Labour or Conservative MSPs had credibility on local government budgets.

The SNP has said it believes it delivers a “fair” budget to councils, and that it is its increased investment in the NHS which has had an impact on funds available for councils, and challenged other parties to suggest where they would “find the money” to give to local authorities. The government also called on all parties to “act responsibly” and “bring forward constructive proposals for the Scottish budget.”

The Scotsman understands that Ms Grant has already met with Mr Mackay.