Scotland politics

Council savings 'hit services used by poorer people'

Council services

Scottish councils are making most of their savings from services used by poorer people, new analysis suggests.

But researchers also found that services used by better-off people were proportionately more likely to be hit.

Researchers from Glasgow and Heriot-Watt universities and the Scottish Parliament Information Centre studied the social impact of council savings.

One of the report's authors said it showed councils were trying to protect services for the poorest.

Anne Hastings, professor for urban studies at Glasgow University, said: "That the services used more by the rich are being cut at a higher rate is really quite interesting because it shows councils are trying to protect and shield low-income groups from the worst effects of the council cuts.

"Councils don't have much wriggle room and this is not a solution. Social care and social work will not be able to withstand cuts of this magnitude continuing."

Council tax freeze

However, the concern is that a strategy like this is unsustainable in the longer term as better-off people question why they should pay for local government if they feel its services are provided solely for poorer people.

The researchers found that about two thirds of council spending is on services often, if not exclusively, used by the poorest - for example social work and some children's services and public transport.

Because these services make up such a large proportion of council budgets, local authorities had, the report said, "little option but to make most of their savings from services which are used more by lower income groups".

However, services which the researchers classified as "pro-rich" - which make up a lower proportion of overall council spending - were facing cuts at a higher rate. These included car parks, museums and galleries.

Although some council services do target the poorest and most vulnerable, some may disagree with the definition of services like museums and galleries as "pro-rich" even if many better-off people do also use them.

Council budgets have been under serious pressure for several years.

The terms of the council tax freeze, which was introduced in 2007 and lasts until next year, meant that councils had very limited control over their income.

'Proud track record'

One big problem has been that overall budgets have been failing to keep up with rising demands for some services.

The single biggest source of cash for councils is the Scottish government.

The report said the local government revenue settlement fell by £349m, or 3.6%, this year meaning a reduction of 5.2% in real terms once inflation was taken into account.

A spokesman for local government umbrella body Cosla - which represents the bulk of councils - said: "The simple truth and hard fact is that we cannot completely shelter our communities from significant cuts to local government.

"Historically, Scotland's councils have had a long and proud track record of standing up for the most vulnerable in society and up until now it is only through the efficiency and good practice delivered by local government that communities have been protected thus far.

"However, as we have said, there is little place left to go and therefore if we are really serious about tackling inequalities in Scotland, then we need to resource this properly."