No options left for savings, councils warn government

Cosla has set out its demands for the Scottish Budget Credit: Jane Barlow/PA

Councils have called for a 2.5% increase in local government funding in the upcoming Scottish Budget, arguing they have “no options left” for savings.

Council umbrella body Cosla published a briefing document outlining its Budget demands, including ditching the 3% cap on council tax, scrapping ring-fencing, and enabling local government to introduce discretionary taxes such as a tourist tax.

Further asks are for sustainable reform of council tax and local government funding and for council-run health and social care services to be given a share of health consequentials.

Policies the government have already committed £352 million to funding in 2019/20 – the early learning and childcare expansion, free personal care extension and school counsellor increase – must be in addition to core council funding, Cosla said.

The report states local government budgets have fallen 10 times faster in real terms than the Scottish budget in the past five years, at 4% compared to 0.4% – and councils now need £549 million extra just to stand still.

It warns: “There is no room left for manoeuvre. There must be financial support for local government in the 2019/20 budget.

“If not, essential services will be at risk resulting in a detrimental impact on our shared ambition of inclusive growth.”

Any financial threat to council budgets puts communities at risk, as well as local economies and the wider Scottish economy, the report adds.

However, the Scottish Government said local government has been treated “very fairly”.

Cosla president, Councillor Alison Evison, said: “Councils have made necessary and significant savings but there are now no options left.

“We cannot be made to cut our essential services without it having a wider, detrimental impact upon our communities.

“We have no capacity to take on additional initiatives, however beneficial the outcomes would be to our communities, unless the financial settlement is increased accordingly.

“I am calling on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy & Fair Work to make sure this budget invests in local government so that together we can deliver inclusive growth for communities across Scotland.”

Labour’s communities spokesman Alex Rowley said: “The Scottish budget cannot continue this conveyor belt of Tory austerity for Scottish local government.

“SNP ministers in Edinburgh passing on these cuts simply harm our communities. These cuts hit our schools and social care, housing and roads.

“Labour wants to see a fair settlement for local government in the budget – an end to the SNP passing on austerity and a renewal of powers for our councils, such as having the ability to set a tourist tax.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Despite continued UK Government real terms cuts to Scotland’s resource budget, we have treated local government very fairly.

“In 2018-19, councils will receive funding through the local government finance settlement of £10.7 billion.

“This will provide a real terms boost in both revenue and capital funding for public services.”

She said Finance Secretary Derek Mackay will present the Government’s tax plans in the Budget and is open to talks on options for local tax reform.