Council bosses warn of 'crisis' ahead of Scottish Budget

They say that some council services could stop entirely if current spending plans go ahead.

Council bosses warn of ‘crisis’ ahead of Scottish Budget iStock

Councils across Scotland could struggle to deliver essential services having reached a “crisis point”, with the Scottish Government urged by local authority leaders to reconsider its spending plans ahead of the Budget.

COSLA, the organisation which represents councils across Scotland, said that under current fiscal plans, it is “inevitable” that jobs will be lost.

Bosses at COSLA explained that this could lead to critical work carried out by council workers being reduced significantly.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney is due to set out the Scottish Budget on December 15.

Swinney, standing in for finance secretary Kate Forbes who is on maternity leave, will announce the spending plans for the year ahead in a statement at the Scottish Parliament.

It will be delivered amid a cost of living crisis and spiralling inflation.

In September, Swinney announced £500m worth of cuts to the Government’s spending plans as he told MSPs that “difficult choices” had to be made, as he warned of the intense pressure on public finances.

Last month, he set out a further £615m of spending cuts as he said there was “very limited room for manoeuvre” amid pay disputes across parts of the public sector.

Swinney has said that the Scottish Government’s financial settlements from the UK Government have “suffered a decade of austerity”, with average real terms cuts of more than 5%, or £18bn.

On Monday, a campaign titled ‘Save our Services’ is being launched by COSLA in order to tell communities of the impact of the forthcoming Budget on council services.

COSLA’s president, councillor Shona Morrison, warned that cuts could see some council services being stopped altogether.

She said: “There are many areas in which local and Scottish government work together for our communities and I fully appreciate that money is extremely tight – all governments are having to cope with rising inflation and fuel costs.

“However, with little room to manoeuvre, the Scottish Government’s spending plans as they stand will see council services either significantly reduced, cut or stopped altogether.

“70% of all local government’s budget is spent on staffing, so it is inevitable that current spending plans will lead to job losses.

“The very serious impact of this scenario is that the critical work council staff do on prevention and early prevention will reduce significantly.”

COSLA’s vice president, Councillor Steven Heddle, said there is an estimated £1bn gap for councils.

“In May, the ‘flat cash’ plans looked difficult for us,” Heddle explained.

“Today, with prices increasing across the board, including energy costs, and inflation sitting at almost 10% and at risk of rising still further, local government is now on extremely dangerous ground.

“Make no mistake, what we will now face is councils struggling to deliver even the basic, essential services that communities rely on.

“To put this into perspective, the estimated £1bn gap for councils in 23/24 is the equivalent of the entire budget for early learning and childcare across Scotland, or 17,500 teachers.

“A funding gap of this magnitude will have an impact on all our communities, with the most vulnerable who rely on these services suffering the worst consequences.”

Councillor Katie Hagman, COSLA’s resources spokesperson, added: “We are at a crisis point like never before – the impact for communities is serious and needs to be reconsidered.”

John Swinney said that future spending decisions will be outlined on December 15.

“The Scottish Government recognises the crucial role councils and their employees play in our communities across Scotland and the challenging financial circumstances they face,” he said.

“The Scottish Government’s settlements from the UK Government have suffered a decade of austerity with average real terms cuts of over 5%, equating to a loss of £18bn.

“Despite this, local authority revenue funding is £2.2bn or 22.9% higher in cash terms in the current financial year than it was in 2013/14.

“Future spending decisions will be outlined as part of the 2023/24 Scottish Budget on December 15.”

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