Scotland's budget: cash or cuts for councils?

Derek Mackay
Image caption All eyes were on Derek Mackay as he set out his draft budget

And so to the budget. It depends, as ever, upon definitions. Should we talk about money for local government? Or money for local services?

If we consider cash for councils, then opposition parties can point to figures which indicate that the budget is down.

However, if we consider funding for services in the round, then ministers can point to figures which suggest that the level of financial support is up.

To offer a little more detail. Please turn to Table 9.02 in the Draft Budget document. It is on Page 91 in the book version. I know, I know, I sound like that maths teacher you disliked but bear with me.

This table cites Level 2 expenditure upon local government. Combining local government cash with central government grant support produces a cut of £327m from 2016/17 to 2017/18. That is the figure cited by Labour.

But, says the Scottish government, those are stripped-down stats. More info is available at Level 3 (Table 9.12, Page 101). That includes other funding streams and generates a cut of £182m across the relevant years.

But, says the SG a second time, that neglects other methods of providing funding for local services, albeit not necessarily through local authorities.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay cited: £120m for the schools attainment gap, no longer to be top sliced from high band council tax; £150m for extra capital spending; £107m diverted from the NHS to social care partnerships; plus the prospect of an extra £70m from increasing council tax, should councils choose to do so.

According to Mr Mackay, the entire package added up to "an increase in spending power on local government services" of £240.6m. Note his precise use of language.

All of this, of course, with an eye to next May's local council elections - in addition to the immediate impact. Will voters heed the cry of "council cuts"? Or will they listen to "service delivery"? And which one will they believe?

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