COUNCILS are drawing up plans to cut services by £250m next year amid growing tensions about the “lack of respect” being shown to local authorities by SNP ministers.
Despite Finance and Economy Secretary Kate Forbes announcing an additional £120m for Scottish councils to the settlement for next year, authorities are still facing a funding gap of one quarter of a billion pounds, local authority leaders have warned.
Alison Evison, president of Cosla, the umbrella organisation for Scottish councils, has welcomed the improved funding offer, but has insisted that vital services such as roads and libraries face deep cuts next year – and an even worse picture in the coming years unless the £120m is factored into the base-line for future budgets.
Speaking on BBC Scotland’s the Sunday Show, Ms Evison said that council leaders held a “really positive” meeting with Nicola Sturgeon the day before the £120m of extra funding was announced.
She added that the additional cash will be “taking off some of the pressures that local government faces”, but warned “it’s not going to do anymore for our communities”.
Ms Evison added: “This money isn’t enough – it helps get rid of the pressures and it’s really positive to get rid of some of the immediate pressures that local government is facing, but it doesn’t do anything to invest in all the services.
“For many years now, we have faced cuts to the core council budget. When we think about what we have to deliver to our communities, only 38 per cent of the council budget is up for councils themselves to decide how to spend it.
“When we need to make cuts, when we need to make savings, it can only come from that 38% of the council budget, which is things like roads, it is things like youth work – it is our libraries, our culture services.
“That’s the only bit that we can take savings from, so when we are still facing, this year, £250m worth of cuts, those are the things that councils will have to look at taking savings from.”
Ms Evison stressed that if the £120m is not factored into the starting point for the follow year’s budget, councils will “face even more budget cuts and even more savings”.
Cosla has previously insisted, before the £120m announcement, that it was not anticipated that local authorities will hike council tax beyond the level of inflation, despite permission to do so from SNP ministers.
Ms Evison stressed that council tax, which makes up a relatively small proportion of funding for authorities, “shouldn’t be there to substitute for the core council budget from the core settlement which needs to come from the Scottish Government”.
Asked whether SNP minister “do not trust” local councils, Ms Evison said: “That is something that we’ve worried about – we’ve worried about the lack of trust, lack of respect being shown to local government.”