Scotland politics

Councils assess Scottish budget impact

council services composite
Image caption Local councils run services such as road maintenance, refuse collections and education

Councils have welcomed an increase in the amount of money the government plans to give them in the coming year - but few are celebrating.

Critics argue councils will still get less government money than this year which they actually have control over.

The government agreed a budget deal yesterday to give councils £160 million more than previously planned.

Councils are now working out just what impact this will have on their own finances.

But it's still too early to say whether specific proposed local cuts are off the table as a direct result of the new funding deal, or get any further clarity on possible across-the-board rises in council tax.

These decisions will usually have to wait for council budget meetings in the weeks ahead. The most which could be said just now is that fewer of these hard choices may have to be made.

Scotland's 32 councils are heavily dependent on the Scottish government for cash. Government cash is shared between them through a complicated formula.

Other money comes principally from business rates and the council tax.

The council tax for properties in Bands E-H will be going up in April nationally - councils also have the power to put it up for everyone by as much as 3%, though most have still not declared their intentions.

Image copyright William Starkey
Image caption Glasgow City Council still foresees making £50m worth of cuts

The largest council, Glasgow, said on Friday that it still anticipates making £50m worth of cuts and savings in the coming year - less than originally envisaged but still a significant amount. Glasgow is including a council tax rise in these calculations.

But when councils talk of needing to save money, all sorts of factors are to blame as well as government funding:

  • Inflation.
  • Rising demand for certain services, for example as the population grows older, or conscious decisions to spend more on a particular priority.
  • The overall amount of cash in their kitties.

A number of councils have been working on longer-term schemes which run over several years to try to become more efficient and minimise obvious changes which the public might notice.

These might involve internal restructuring and job losses, though there have been few compulsory redundancies.

Each council's share of the £160m will mean they are in a better-than-expected situation, which is bound to reduce the number of difficult decisions in the coming weeks.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Local authorities are also weighing up how much to raise council tax by

The Scottish government always argued that its spending plans and the council tax changes meant more for local services overall.

One big part of this is £120m for head teachers to spend on raising attainment. The money is being targeted towards schools in poorer areas with head teachers getting about £1,200 for every student known to be entitled to free meals.

Many councils argued that including things like this was an unfair comparison.

What many voters will care about, though, is how much council tax they pay and the quality of the local services they get.

Abstract figures are unlikely to interest many voters - cuts or rising bills or service charges are another matter.

With that in mind, councils were always likely to try to minimise significant or controversial cuts in an election year.

Indeed, a number have still to make public their proposals for the coming year.

But make no mistake. There will still be difficult decisions in town halls over the coming weeks - just not as many as looked likely to be the case.

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