Scotland

Cosla warns of more council cuts and savings

Traffic sign, child writing, road being dug up, and bins waiting to be emptied

Scottish councils could face up to half a billion pounds of cuts, savings and spending pressures in the coming year, according to Cosla.

The local government body said it wanted to ensure the Scottish and UK governments understood the pressures councils were under.

Cosla said councils were in a "financial straightjacket" and already faced difficult decisions.

Many councils are currently consulting on savings options for next year.

There are a number of reasons for the pressure on local government finance.

Councils get the bulk of their money from the Scottish government which, in turn, currently gets its cash from Westminster.

'Difficult decisions'

The Scottish government has argued it has done the best it can to protect councils from what it has described as "Westminster austerity" while the UK government has said cutting the budget deficit is vital.

The terms of the council tax freeze mean putting up the tax - which accounts for about 15p of each pound a council spends - has not been a realistic option for local authorities feeling the squeeze.

Meanwhile demand for some services and some specific costs continue to rise.

Chancellor George Osborne will make his budget statement on Wednesday, and Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney will announce his own spending plans next month.

Cosla's finance spokesman Councillor Kevin Keenan said: "I feel it is vital that as Cosla's finance spokesperson I make both the chancellor in London and Mr Swinney in Edinburgh fully aware of the financial pressures we in local government are up against.

"Scottish local government is already facing nearly half a billion pounds of spending pressures for next year and this is before George Osbourne or John Swinney even have their pencils out.

"For the sake of communities throughout Scotland I can only hope that neither of their pencils are particularly sharp because Scottish local government and the communities we represent cannot really take any more pain."

'Extra money'

He added: "We are already operating within a financial straightjacket in terms of the tools we have at our disposal with things like the council tax freeze restricting our ability to operate.

"Make no mistake councils are going to be faced with making very difficult decisions but this time around we are talking about more than soft targets - we are talking of severe cuts in vital services and job losses in communities and undoubtedly these will impact on the most vulnerable in our society.

"No one in local government wants to see that happen so it is imperative that this message is not only heard by those who control the purse strings but is acted upon."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "Despite UK government cuts of nearly 10% to the Scottish budget, local government finance settlements have been maintained over the period 2012-16, with extra money for new responsibilities, including an additional £70m every year since 2008/09 to fully fund the council tax freeze, with the total settlement in 2015-16 over £10.85bn."

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