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Cuts to previously protected council services inevitable, Cosla warns

The local government body said money for councils had decreased significantly since 2011-12.

Council leaders have warned cuts to services are ‘inevitable’ as a result of the Scottish Government budget. (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Council leaders have warned cuts to services are ‘inevitable’ as a result of the Scottish Government budget. (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Council leaders have warned cuts to vital services are now “inevitable” as they told how the Scottish Government’s draft budget for 2019-20 would have a “major impact” on their work.

While some key areas local government is responsible for have been shielded from the financial pressures facing the public sector, MSPs were told that there was “no room left for manoeuvre” and “cuts to previously protected services will be inevitable”.

Cosla, the organisation which represents Scotland’s 32 local authorities, made the warning to MSPs on Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee ahead of its examinations of Finance Secretary Derek Mackay’s draft budget.

Across Scotland, local authorities are responsible for a host of services, including the provision of schools and care services, social work support, rubbish collection and street cleaning.

Cosla stated: “The consequences of the announced cuts will have a major impact on the essential services provided by local government across Scotland and will severely limit our ability to invest in people, places and the economy.

“This settlement will impact jobs, frontline services and economic growth.”

Mr Mackay told the Parliament in December that his tax and spending plans for the coming year would provide for a real-terms increase in both revenue and capital funding.

Funding for local government will total £11.1 billion in the coming year, he said.

But in a submission to MSPs, Colsa said the money for councils had “decreased significantly” since 2011-12.

And it argued local authorities were now facing a “perfect storm” of budget reductions, alongside councils having to fund Scottish Government policy priorities, such as the expansion of early learning and childcare.

Cosla said: “The total revenue funding announced by the cabinet secretary on the  December 12 was presented as a slight increase to the 2018-19 Settlement (£163 million). However, the reality of this for local government is a cut to core budget of £237 million.”

It added that the budget planned for day-to-day services included £400 million new commitments made by the Scottish Government – with much of this cash earmarked for specific projects.

The local government organisation was clear: “These new commitments are Scottish Government policies.

“Although Cosla support the intention of these policies, we have been clear that the funding of these must be in addition to the core. This has not happened, and the reality is that these have been funded at the expense of the core and therefore at the expense of essential services.”

Councils have “done all that they can to make efficiencies and protect services” in previous years, Cosla insisted.

It added: “The efficiencies which were made in the past to protect these services have already been made and cuts to previously protected services will be inevitable.

“This is already emerging in those councils with higher rates of deprivation.”

And it added that the cap on council tax increases of 3% would have a “significant impact on a council’s ability to raise additional revenue to mitigate the impact of cuts to our communities”.

Cosla said: “We now know that councils are facing significant cuts to core funding in both revenue and capital and will face difficult decisions over the coming weeks over the cuts they will be forced to make locally.”

The organisation stressed it had “significant concerns about the draft budget as announced, and the impact on individuals, communities and the Scottish economy”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have continued to ensure that our partners in local government receive a real terms increase in funding despite further cuts to the Scottish Budget from the UK Government.

“This funding package includes an additional £235 million to deliver on our commitment for the expansion of Early Learning and Childcare entitlement and £160 million for investment in social care. This is real funding to support real day-to-day core services. To selectively exclude it, as Cosla has done, presents a distorted picture of the resources available to local councils.

“If local authorities choose to use their powers to increase council tax by up to 3% they can generate up to an additional £80 million to support the delivery of essential local services.”

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