Town halls warn services are close to breaking point in Scottish budget plea

Derek Mackay is facing last-ditch calls to protect frontline services as he prepares to unveil the Scottish budget of about £30 billion for the coming year at Holyrood.

Council leaders warned they are close to breaking point as the Finance Secretary publishes his spending plans for 2020/21 at Holyrood this afternoon.

The SNP minister has pledged to protect Town Hall budgets, but also faced Conservative demands for no further widening of the “tax gap” between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The budget has been delayed from its usual December slot as a result of the UK election and is unusually being published before the UK Chancellor Sajid Javid sets out the broader UK budget which sets out Scotland’s “block grant” settlement.

Town halls warn services are close to breaking point in budget plea

Alison Evison, president of local government body Cosla, has warned central government cuts has led to budget falls in areas like culture and leisure spending, roads maintenance and environmental planning.

“These reductions in spend on ‘non protected’ services in and of themselves are bad enough – but cutting them has wider implications by impacting severely on council’s ambitions to deliver sustainable communities as 
well as impacting heavily on the four priorities identified by Cosla as key strands of our spending review campaign – inclusive economic growth, child poverty, well-being and climate change,” Ms Evison said.

“The cracks are starting to show and performance improvements gained in recent years are now beginning to slow or decline.”

Mr Mackay has branded the delay to the UK budget “unacceptable” and said much of his own spending plan will be based on estimates.

“I would urge the Scottish Parliament to work constructively with us and support this Budget to provide much needed clarity for local authorities and our vital public services,” he said.

Due to their position as a minority government, the SNP will need the support of other parties to get their spending proposals approved in Holyrood.

Tory finance spokesman Murdo Fraser yesterday called for a halt to any further tax divergence with the rest of the UK.

The SNP overhauled the income tax system of rates and bands in Scotland. Workers earning more than £27,000 pay more in tax, while others below this threshold – a small majority – pay less in tax.

“Scotland has become the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom,” Mr Fraser told MSPs yesterday.

“There can be no justification for any additional tax rises or further cuts to public spending.”