The body representing Scottish local councils has warned that inequalities in Scotland “could start to overtake some third world countries” unless action is taken to protect public services.
David O’Neill, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), issued the stark warning in a new manifesto, which calls for councils to be given greater financial choice.
In its report, Choose Local, Cosla’s Manifesto for a Stronger Scottish Democracy, it calls for an end to national government direction on council tax, which has seen authorities faced with the threat cuts to their funding unless they sign up to the SNP’s council tax freeze.
Cosla also said the poorest Scots were being let down by the way public services were delivered, with growing levels of inequality that could begin to resemble provision in third world nations.
In the manifesto published ahead of May’s Holyrood election, Mr O’Neill said: “Despite all of the best efforts of the public sector, inequalities in Scotland are growing.
“Poor outcomes for a small proportion of the population drive very large amounts of public spending and if we don’t do something soon, inequalities in Scotland could start to overtake some third world countries.”
The financial demands are one of five pledges Cosla wants parliamentary candidates from all the major parties to sign up to in advance of the Scottish Parliament election on 5 May.
The others are: holding an immediate review to localise how public services are governed; having a summit to redraw the partnership between local and national government; joining Cosla in establishing a constitutional convention, and to “focus debate on local outcomes, not soundbites”.
Speaking as he launched the manifesto, Mr O’Neill added: “All of us within Scottish local government want to harness the power of a more local way of doing things, and overhaul participation in decision making across the country by bringing democracy closer to people.”
Labour MSP Neil Findlay said the findings showed the need for redistributive policies that he claimed if enacted “could begin addressing this scar on our society” of growing inequality.
Mr Findlay said: “David O’Neill has laid out in the most stark terms the extent of inequality in Scotland.
“This in my view is Scotland’s shame. We need to see all of the political parties put this at very top of the public policy agenda.”
Holyrood local government minister Marco Biagi said the SNP had taken action to ensure “more power to tackle inequality is held by communities” during its time in government.
He said: “We welcome Cosla’s contribution to the debate and a re-elected SNP government will build on our record by working with communities, local authorities and Cosla to ensure that not only are services delivered at the right level but that local communities have greater ability to tackle inequalities and grow local economies.
“Improving local democracy must not be just about the powers and role of local authorities but about how communities are able to influence what happens in their area.”