Scotland politics

Scottish councils fear 'significant' budget cuts

Council
Image caption There has been a row over the amount of funding for local services included in the budget plans

Scottish councils have warned that the government's budget plans could lead to "significant" cuts to local services.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) said the proposed funding package would "result in extremely difficult local decisions".

A Scottish government spokesman insisted councils had been treated "very fairly" in budget settlements.

The government needs one opposition party to at least abstain to get the budget past its first vote on Thursday.

A briefing paper sent around MSPs by Cosla, which includes many of Scotland's councils, said "misrepresentations" about the proposed deal were confusing communities and damaging the role of local government.

There has been a row over what Finance Secretary Derek Mackay's budget plans would actually mean for local government services. Opposition parties point to the core council grant falling by £327m, while Mr Mackay insists that other measures such as cash going direct to schools and health and social care partnerships and the unfreezing of the council tax means there is actually an increase in the money going towards services.

Holyrood's local government committee said the budget was "very difficult to follow", noting that it was essential that parliament was clear on "exactly how much money local authorities can be expected to receive".

'Difficult settlements'

Cosla argues that it is "inaccurate" to offset the cut to the core grant with other ring-fenced funds, saying there was "less discretion for councils to spend on local priorities".

Their "budget reality" paper reads: "The 2017/18 budget will result in extremely difficult local decisions being taken to manage the budget gaps being faced by all councils. This is on the back of difficult settlements in the past.

"A revenue cut of this magnitude will undoubtedly impact on local services."

The group, which also opposed the 2016/17 budget, has asked for a reduction to the cut in its revenue budget, more capital funding for local infrastructure, and additional investment in health and social care and education.

They also want "fundamental reform of local taxation" and "constitutional protection for local government".

Image caption Derek Mackay has insisted his budget plan is a fair one for councils

The Scottish government argues that local government has been treated "very fairly".

A spokesman said: "Taking next year's local government finance settlement plus the other sources of income available to councils through reforms to council tax and funding for health and social care integration, the overall increase in spending power to support local authority services amounts to £241 million, or 2.3%, and every penny of council tax collected will stay in the local authority area.

"We have received no rejections from councils. It is now for local authorities to finalise their budgets, including provision for each of the elements included in the package, at their council budget-setting meetings which will take place over the coming weeks."

Scottish Labour, who have declared they will not back the budget without extra funding for local authorities, said the Cosla warning was "very serious".

Deputy leader Alex Rowley said: "Derek Mackay must listen to the people who deliver the local services that our communities depend upon.

"The first vote on the SNP budget is just days away and I urge Mr Mackay to think again about the damage he plans to inflict on our communities."

'Negotiation and compromise'

The budget bill has been introduced at Holyrood, marking the start of the formal legislative process.

With the SNP a minority government, at least one opposition party will need to at least abstain on the plans to allow them to progress. Recent votes have resulted in a stalemate, with no consensus between the parties on spending or tax.

Mr Mackay has highlighted the Lib Dems and Greens as the most likely partners for a deal, but both parties have warned there remain "big differences" between their positions and that of the government.

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie told the BBC's Sunday Politics Scotland programme that he was "not fearful of an election, although I do not want one", adding: "If we don't get what our voters backed us for in May, then I'm afraid we just have to walk away."

Meanwhile Green co-convener Patrick Harvie posted on Twitter on Monday that his party would not "support the budget unquestioningly" nor "oppose it without evening talking".

He added that "minority government can work well for the country, but needs negotiation and compromise from all".

Mr Mackay has previously said he is "positive" about getting his budget through Holyrood.

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