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Greens demand more cash for councils before backing budget plans

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay unveiled his budget plans last month Photo: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA

The Scottish Greens have warned they cannot support the Government’s proposed budget as it stands, saying it would be “damaging” for local services across the country.

They argue the current level of funding proposed for local government means they cannot back the SNP administration’s budget for 2019-20.

The Greens have called for a “fundamental change of position” from ministers ahead of the first vote on the budget on Thursday.

Ministers say the budget proposes real terms increases in funding for councils and they are urging MSPs from other parties to unite behind the spending plans.

With the SNP not having a majority in the Scottish Parliament, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay needs the support of at least one other party if his financial package is to be approved.

Patrick Harvie wants to see further support for local government Credit: John Linton/PA

The Greens, who say they have reached agreement with the SNP on four previous occasions, argue the budget contains fresh proposed “cuts” and they are looking for more money to be allocated to Scotland’s councils.

Total funding for both the revenue and capital budget in the local government settlement is up more than £210 million, with overall Scottish Government support to local government at £11.1 billion.

This includes core funding and cash from other areas, but council umbrella body Cosla argues that due to money already committed and ring-fencing, both core capital and revenue budgets have been cut by 2%, at £198 million and £207 million respectively.

Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie said: “The Greens went into this year’s budget process with a precondition of progress on local tax reform, to make council budgets less dependent on the Government in future.

“I’m convinced that a solid package of measures can be agreed, which over the coming years would empower Scotland’s councils and finally end the unfair council tax.

“But the Government seem determined to force through a hugely damaging budget for 2019/20, decimating local services around the country. That’s not something we can support.

“As councils prepare to set their budgets for the coming year the threat to jobs, services like education and community facilities such as swimming pools and libraries is very real. A crisis in local services can be avoided, but it will require a fundamental change of position from the Scottish Government.”

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Meanwhile, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have said Mr Mackay “must take independence off the table” if he wants to “unlock” budget talks with them.

Leader Willie Rennie said: “If the Finance Secretary’s talks with the Green Party are faltering, he knows exactly what he needs to do to unlock talks.

“The damage done by independence to public services would be enormous. We are not asking the SNP to abandon their belief in independence. We just want the SNP minority Government to cease preparations for the remainder of this Parliament.”

Mr Mackay said the £11.1 billion settlement for local government represents a real terms increase in both revenue and capital funding, and a real terms increase in total overall support.

He said the Scottish Parliament should unite behind the plans to provide certainty on public spending and economic investment amid ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

Mr Mackay said his “door remains open” to opposition parties to secure a deal and ensure the budget passes.

He said: “With unemployment in Scotland below 100,000 for the first time on record, it is essential we do all we can to protect our economy amid the ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

“The Scottish budget we propose offers that stability and provides as much certainty as possible in the circumstances.

“Our spending plans for 2019-20 provide a real terms funding increase for Scotland’s essential public services, including additional funding of almost £730 million for our health and care services and more than £180 million to raise attainment in our schools.

“The budget also gives a vital boost to our economy through our £5 billion infrastructure investment programme.”