Scotland’s councils have suffered more than a decade of cuts and increasing pressure on vital services, according to spending watchdogs.
Audit Scotland and the Scottish Parliament Information Centre both agree local authorities have been getting up to £600m less from the Scottish Government in real terms.
Councils say that, faced with growing and aging populations, deteriorating buildings and expanding duties, they have been left with “no choice” but to cut core services.
Ahead of Thursday’s Scottish Government budget, STV News asked the 32 councils for their views on the impact of cuts.
Here’s what they had to say:
Aberdeen – Labour, Conservative and Independent coalition
“The continued delivery of the vital services the public rely on is becoming nigh on impossible as the cuts to both revenue and capitals budgets bite.”Council leader Jenny Laing
Aberdeen City Council leader Jenny Laing, Labour: “The truth is the continued delivery of the vital services the public rely on is becoming nigh-on impossible as the cuts to both revenue and capital budgets bite. Unless we get our fair share of public funding from the Scottish Government, cuts to both vital services and jobs will be inevitable.
“Despite the massive cuts to council budgets over recent years, Aberdeen City Council has continued to invest in our people and place, however this is becoming more and more difficult as our statutory duties are increasing, demand for council services is rising, and grant funding is being slashed in real terms each and every year.”
Aberdeenshire – Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Independent coalition
Aberdeenshire Council spokesperson: “We continue to look for innovative ways to deliver council services to balance our budgets on a year-to-year basis.
“This is part of our role to provide the best possible services to Aberdeenshire’s communities.”
Angus – Independent, Conservative and Liberal Democract coalition
“We cannot continue to protect these services from further impact due to the prolonged underfunding we are facing. It’s unsustainable.”Angus Council
Independent councillor and financial convenor Mark Salmond said the council had saved £71m over the last nine years while protecting frontline services, adding: “We cannot continue to protect these services from further impact due to the prolonged underfunding we are facing, it’s unsustainable.”
Argyll and Bute – Liberal Democrat, Independent and Conservative coalition
“Every year it becomes even more difficult to identify savings.”Argyll and Bute Council
Spokesperson for Argyll and Bute Council: “The council has made £54m of recurring savings over the past ten years and every year it becomes even more difficult to identify savings and it is inevitable that any reductions in revenue funding will have an impact on the delivery of vital frontline services.
“Furthermore, the council’s capital funding has been reducing year on year. This presents major challenges for the council in terms of asset sustainability and also investing in infrastructure, which is key to delivering on existing and emerging priorities.”
Clackmannanshire – SNP
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – Independent
The Western Isles council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has suffered the largest funding cuts of any local authority in Scotland since 2013/14.
A spokesperson for the council said this had caused “severe budgetary pressures”, adding: “Prudent financial planning and use of balances has allowed us to mitigate the worst impacts of this on service delivery but that cannot be a long-term solution.
“With the costs of the pandemic, the Comhairle continues to face an extremely challenging financial environment and supports calls for proper funding to provide the everyday services our communities need and deserve.
“Service priorities are agreed through the budget setting process where all councillors are asked to score/rank services and then go through a process of agreeing priorities.”
Dumfries and Galloway – Labour and SNP coalition
“There are no ‘easy’ savings left.”Council leader Elaine Murray
Dumfries and Galloway Council leader Elaine Murray, Labour: “Dumfries and Galloway Council have had to find revenue cuts/savings of over £100m over the last few years.
“We have seen significant reductions in staff and services, and it is absolutely correct to say there are no ‘easy’ savings left.
“We may have to find a further £10.6m next year – if this is the case it will be extremely difficult to find recurrent savings.”
Dundee – SNP
East Ayrshire – SNP
A spokesperson for East Ayrshire Council: “Where a gap is identified, this is allocated across the council in a way that safeguards specific service areas and ensures that service delivery arrangements are not adversely impacted wherever possible.
“Essentially services identify efficiencies or alternative ways of working, including redesigning services, as a means to bridge the gap.”
East Dunbartonshire – Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition
Liberal Democrat co-leader Vaughan Moody: “After a decade of austerity the ability to continue to make savings without service reductions is much depleted and any continuation in austerity will directly effect the ability of the council to support recovery within our communities.”
Conservative co-leader Andrew Polson “highlighted historic under investment”, adding: “We believe that the people of East Dunbartonshire should not be limited by short-term decision making and that to survive, council’s need adequate funding aimed at supporting, not only restitution, but recovery.”
East Lothian – Labour
An East Lothian Council spokesperson said: “The overall financial climate for local government is extremely challenging.
“East Lothian is one of Scotland’s fastest growing areas, with increased demand for services being experienced.
“Doing things differently, such as increased use of digital technology to deliver improved and increasingly efficient services, will have a big role to play.”
East Renfrewshire – SNP, Labour and Independent coalition
East Renfrewshire Council said real-term reductions “clearly” had an impact on what local services it is able to deliver.
A spokesperson said a reduction in service levels would be required to ensure a balanced budget.
Edinburgh – SNP and Labour coalition
Council leader Adam McVey, SNP: “There’s no doubting the challenges that lie ahead as we look to invest in important issues like housing, education and transport in the capital
“When agreeing our spending plans for next year, and beyond, our focus will remain on protecting the most vulnerable in our society and providing a fairer quality of life for the people of Edinburgh.
“I will continue to make the strongest possible case to the Scottish Government on behalf of our city and will continue to press for the investment and settlement we need to meet the aspirations of the people of Edinburgh.”
Falkirk – SNP
A spokesperson for Falkirk Council said if the Scottish Government’s revenue grant did not match expenditure, then the council’s ability to maintain existing level of services was “inevitably compromised”.
Fife – SNP and Labour
“Councils have been dealing with a perfect storm in keeping services going.”Councillor David Ross
Labour co-leader of Fife Council David Ross said cuts had made him “really angry”, adding: “Councils have been dealing with a perfect storm in keeping services going.
Councillor Ross said roads had deteriorated across the Kingdom, weed and amenity areas were left untended, bins failed to be collected, and there had been “unacceptable” waiting times to reach the council contact centre by phone.
Co-leader, SNP councillor David Alexander: “Demand continues to rise as population demographics impacts on the NHS and care sector.
“Covid is still causing problems and delaying recovery whilst Brexit has resulted in shortages, substantial inflation in several sectors, and manpower shortages.
“The public, and the private sector, don’t have their problems to seek but by working together I have confidence that we will see growth in 22/23.”
Glasgow – SNP
Highland – Independent, Liberal Democrat and Labour coalition
“None of us want to go on like that anymore.”Council leader Margaret Davidson
Independent council leader Margaret Davidson: “Many local authorities have had to cut back on roads budgets, grass cutting, environmental health, and they have had to reduce staff. None of us want to go on like that anymore.
“That is the least we can do as a nation to acknowledge the extraordinary work our people have done to keep Scotland on the road this past year.
“We were sent a reasonable settlement from UK Government and we need to see that coming through, but above all and for now we need a real terms rise in our Scottish Government settlement.”
Inverclyde – Labour
Inverclyde Council leader councillor Stephen McCabe: “We’re acutely aware here in Inverclyde of the negative impact of historical budget cuts on the services we deliver and the knock-on effect that has on our residents.
“Councils are having to do more with less resources and it’s simply not sustainable if we want to continue delivering high-quality services for the areas and people we serve.
“Local authorities have the knowledge, expertise and people to make positive changes in their communities, but we need the financial support in order to do that.”
Midlothian – Labour
“We have had no choice but to cut core services and budgets.”Deputy council leader Jim Muirhead
Deputy council leader Jim Muirhead said “significant and continued” underfunding left councils with “no choice but to cut core services and budgets”.
“While we have sought to protect those services that the most vulnerable in our communities rely on this has not always been possible,” he said.
“We have not been able to continue to subsidise rural bus services. Services such as roads maintenance and waste collection have become stretched as demands increase but budgets reduce.
“We have had to increase fees and charges, including charges for care services. We have had to reduce staffing levels across all services and in a number of areas revert to only providing the minimum service to meet our statutory obligations.
“Our ability to invest in early intervention and preventative services in areas such as children’s services, which would otherwise have helped reduce further service demands, has been severely curtailed. We have had to cut the resources available for community safety.
“We have had to close indoor and outdoor leisure facilities.
“Further real-term reductions will directly affect those most vulnerable in our communities.”
Moray – SNP
A Moray Council spokesperson: “The council aims to make efficiencies in running services to avoid cuts and has run two programmes of service transformation to assist in this, we also invest in energy efficiencies.
“Where cuts are unavoidable we look to where expenditure is discretionary and there’s no statutory duty to provide the service; where we can generate income to avoid cuts to services; and where community asset transfer can preserve services by community groups stepping in.”
North Ayrshire – Labour
“More austerity will be devastating for our communities.”Council leader Joe Cullinane
North Ayrshire Council leader Joe Cullinane: “For over a decade, SNP politicians in Edinburgh have taken Tory cuts, multiplied them and dumped them onto local councils. And the effect is visible for people across Scotland to see – libraries faced with closure, more potholes on the roads, social care at breaking point, education standards falling, drug deaths on the rise.
“We are not campaigning against cuts to protect the ‘council’, we are campaigning against cuts to protect the services our citizens rely upon and to properly reward our key workers with a decent pay rise.
“With over 80% [of] the council’s budget controlled by ministers in Holyrood, and with ever-increasing ringfencing, it’s time local government got a fair funding deal from the government in Edinburgh. More austerity will be devastating for our communities.”
North Lanarkshire – Labour
Councillor Jim Logue: “There is no doubt at all that continued reductions in the budget for local services have a serious and lasting impact on people in North Lanarkshire. In our case, more than £225m has been cut over the last decade, and our medium-term financial forecast is that we will have a budget gap in excess of more than £70m across the next three financial years.
“Against that backdrop, it is impossible to continue to provide services which local people rely on at the levels they are entitled to expect.
“It is clear that local government has been the poor relation in terms of successive budgets and the Scottish Government must support councils in driving economic recovery and providing vital services.”
Orkney – Independent
Orkney Council spokesperson: “We received virtually the same in 2018-19 as we did in 2013-14 – which illustrates how funding has stood still while duties and inflation (and demand for services) have risen
“The pinch is perhaps even more so for us as Scotland’s smallest local council – we’ve had to respond to the pandemic and to the Scottish Government’s priorities at the same level as other councils with more favourable economies of scale.
“We now need some restorative funding so we can sustain and maintain services in the one of the most geographically challenging locations in Scotland.”
Perth and Kinross – Conservative
Renfrewshire – SNP
Scottish Borders – Conservative and Independent coalition
Shetland – Independent
Shetland Council spokesperson: “The council understands the fiscal environment in which it operates and has identified the areas in which it expects to face further financial pressure, including a likely reduction in core revenue and capital funding in the future.
“Our medium-term financial plan outlines the challenges the council is expected to face and the approach to setting annual budgets that are responsive to local demand for services, balanced against the need to invest in services and local infrastructure in order to deliver the council’s priorities.”
South Ayrshire – SNP, Labour and Independent coalition
South Ayrshire Council spokesperson: “Every year the council’s costs for pay, supplies and services, energy costs, fuel cost etc continue to rise due to the impact of inflation
“When this is combined with service demand increases it places a huge pressure on council financial resources and its ability to provide services.
“Many of the additional costs incurred each year has not been matched by increased funding from the Scottish Government in recent years.”
South Lanarkshire – SNP
A spokesperson for South Lanarkshire Council: “Where savings have been required to be made, these decisions are taken by elected members.
“In taking decisions around savings, the council will always aim to minimise the impact on frontline service delivery.”
Stirling – SNP and Labour coalition
A Stirling Council spokesperson: “Local government must be given the power and resources to deliver positive change at a local level and achieve our ambitions for our communities.
“We support the need to push the case to both the Scottish and UK Governments to deliver for local government.
“Only through sufficient funding will we be able to deliver the everyday services our communities need and deserve.”
West Dunbartonshire – SNP
West Lothian – Labour
“There’s no hiding place.”Council leader Lawrence Fitzpatrick
Council leader Lawrence Fitzpatrick: “Sadly, it has become the norm to expect to have to bridge a budget gap and cut services following the Scottish Government’s budget settlement for councils.
“There’s no hiding place. The reality is that after years of insufficient funding, councils continue to operate in extremely difficult conditions, trying to navigate the delivery of critical services like schools, social care and environmental services through a continual backdrop of reducing budgets.
“Year after year, the Scottish Government’s funding to local councils is not enough to deliver local services and our communities have felt the impact of those real-terms funding cuts.
“Each year we call upon the Scottish Government to provide additional funding for local government to help us protect vital local services.”
What is the Scottish Government saying?
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We welcome this contribution from COSLA on local government funding.
“As always, the Scottish Budget will be informed by voices across Scotland, from the private, public and third sector. The 2022-23 Scottish Budget is expected to be a challenging budget as Scotland continues its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic without any Covid-19 funding from the UK Government.
“And despite successive cuts and austerity policies from the UK Government impacting on Scotland’s public finances, we have continued to treat local government very fairly, with councils’ revenue funding having increased in cash terms by £1.3bn or 12.1% between 2013-14 and 2021-22.
“Although local government funding is not wholly comparable, we have delivered a 3.6% cash-terms revenue budget increase to Scotland’s local authorities between 2013-14 and 2019-20 – while over the same period local authorities in England have faced a cash-terms revenue budget cut of 14.7%.
“The 2022-23 Scottish Budget will focus on delivering the new Programme for Government, reflecting challenges facing households, communities and businesses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”
How much is coming from the UK Goverment?
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced Barnett-based funding for the Scottish Government of £41bn per year – the largest annual funding settlement, in real terms, since devolution over 20 years ago.
“By providing record funding, the Scottish Government can tackle backlogs in the NHS and ensure people in Scotland get the support they need as we recover from the pandemic,” Sunak said.