Council services in Scotland are at “absolute breaking point” and may have to stop altogether after funding concerns were not addressed by the Scottish Budget, local authority leaders have warned.
John Swinney set out the Scottish Government’s fiscal plans on Thursday, having stated “very hard choices” were required.
COSLA, the body representing councils in Scotland, in the lead-up to the announcement, launched an SOS (Save our Services) campaign which highlighted a £1bn funding gap.
The deputy first minister told MSPs that councils will be given full flexibility to set tax rates for their local authority areas, though urged them to “carefully consider” the cost pressures facing the public.
A cash increase as part of the local government settlement was presented as £498m.
However, council leaders say that after Scottish Government policy commitments are accounted for, it amounts to an increase of only £71m.
The Fraser of Allander Institute said the funding is equal to a 4.9% real-terms decrease based on spending last year.
A full meeting of local authority bosses was held on Friday as they discussed the impact of the Budget.
They unanimously agreed on the need to raise concerns “at the highest level” following the announcement, as they expressed disappointment at the settlement laid out, backing a motion arguing that the Budget will be detrimental to local government services.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have protected councils in the most challenging Budget since devolution to provide more than £13.2bn in the 2023/24 local government settlement.
“This represents a cash increase of over £550m or 4.5%, which is a real-terms increase of £160.6m or 1.3%.”
The Scottish Conservatives told Swinney to stop with the “shameless spin” over the funding given.
Katie Hagmann, the body’s resources spokesperson, said the Budget compounds the pressures on council spending.
“Council services will not be at absolute breaking point and some may have to stop altogether,” she said.
“This is a result of cuts to our councils’ core budgets and direction on spend towards other Scottish Government priorities over the last few years.
“Yesterday’s Budget announcement compounds this and there is a real risk that many of our essential services will not only be cut but may have to stop altogether.
“Council leaders were unanimous today that we need to work together with one local government voice to raise our concerns at the highest level.”
COSLA president councillor Shona Morrison added: “The reality of the situation is that yet again, the essential services councils deliver have not been prioritised by the Scottish Government.
“COSLA asked for £1bn but from our initial assessment of the Budget, we believe that local government will see an uplift of only £71m once policy commitments are taken into account.
“Whilst the decision to allow councils the freedom to set their own council tax rates is welcomed, scope will be extremely limited this year, as councils seek to protect the most vulnerable in our communities, recognising the cost of living crisis.”
COSLA vice president councillor Steven Heddle hit out at Scottish Government decision-making over the Budget.
He said: “Yes, money is tight, but Scottish Government has made political choices.
“Cuts to our core budget hit the most vulnerable in our communities the hardest and are damaging to our workforce – Scottish Government needs to consider this seriously.
“That is why council leaders were unanimous today that we must fight for a fairer settlement.”
Miles Briggs, the Scottish Conservative local government spokesman, warned that services that residents rely on could be “lost forever”, as he criticised the deputy First Minister.
“This damning verdict from COSLA totally undermines John Swinney’s boasts of delivering a fair deal for local authorities yesterday,” said Briggs.
“Once again, the reality is that the SNP-Green government have passed down brutal cuts to our councils.
“Council leaders’ concerns that were made clear before the budget have failed to be heeded by ministers and and the impact of this settlement will be devastating for our communities.
“Services that residents rely on could be lost forever under John Swinney’s current budget proposals. He should stop with the shameless spin and instead step up and ensure our councils have the funding they need.”
Briggs added: “While tough decisions have to be made, our councils should not always have to bear the brunt of SNP-Green cuts.
“Many of them simply have no more room to manoeuvre when it comes to manging their finances, while still delivering local services.
“John Swinney should be ashamed at trying to say his budget protects our local authorities, when the exact opposite is the case.”