Scotland politics

Scottish councils record revenue surplus of almost £70m

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Scottish councils recorded a revenue surplus of almost £70m last year, according to new figures.

Official statistics show local authorities reported an overall revenue surplus of £69.4m for 2014-15, compared with a deficit of £54.8m in 2013-14.

Finance Secretary John Swinney said the figures showed councils had been treated "very fairly".

But a Cosla spokesman said the high-level figures hid the "true story" of what was happening on the ground.

There has been anger from unions and opposition parties over the local government settlement in the 2016/17 Scottish Budget passed by MSPs at Holyrood last week.

'Welcome news'

Cosla said the deal would cut council budgets by £350m and put 15,000 jobs at risk.

But Mr Swinney countered that the overall reduction in funding for 2016/17 was less than 1% of councils' estimated total expenditure, when £250m to support the integration of health and social care was taken into account.

He said: "These figures demonstrate that, despite cuts of nearly 10% to the Scottish budget from the UK government, local government has been treated very fairly by the Scottish government and protected from the worst impact of UK cuts.

"The Scottish Parliament Information Centre, in its research briefing on local government finance, found that the council tax freeze was not only fully funded but could indeed be said to be 'over-funded'."

He added: "It is welcome news that the highest spends in 2014-15 were on education and social care, and I hope to see this trend continue."

Responding to Mr Swinney, a spokesman for Cosla said: "It is simply wrong to think of this money as being a surplus sitting in a bank account.

"These are high level figures which hide the true story of what is happening on the ground."

He added: "The fact is that the considerable majority of these reserves will already be committed by councils for specific and planned areas of local spend such as service transformation, creating capacity and responding to severe weather to name but a few.

"It must also be highlighted that these figures show the position for 2014/15 and so are already out of date and do not reflect the real financial situation faced by councils today."

The spokesman said reserves allow councils to protect against financial shocks, adding: "No more so is this the case for the 2016/17 budget.

"If councils hadn't had the reserves there then the impact on front line services and communities would have been far greater than is the case."

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