Long-term funding deal urged for councils after pandemic

The Accounts Commission has examined how local authorities responded to the pandemic.

Long-term funding deal urged for councils after pandemic Getty Images
Covid: Services remain closed.

Scotland’s councils need a multi-year financial settlement in the wake of coronavirus in order to be sustainable, a report has said.

The Accounts Commission has examined how local authorities responded to the pandemic.

While it praised the quick shift to new methods of working, it highlighted the unequal impact of Covid-19.

Its report said the most vulnerable, minority groups and women were most affected by changes brought about by the pandemic.

They included carers who could not access respite care and people with learning disabilities who were unable to access critical services and support.

The Accounts Commission said it was vital that councils had longer-term financial certainty, warning the funding situation beyond 2021 looked uncertain.

Elma Murray, interim chairwoman of the commission, said: “Councils, communities and their partners have worked incredibly hard to continue to deliver vital services to local people.

“The stark reality is that some council services won’t restart, and some services will have to be delivered differently.

“Underpinning this is the increasingly urgent need to address inequalities throughout Scotland’s communities.

“For councils this is made more challenging because they continue to operate in a climate of significant financial uncertainty, which must now be addressed.”

Responding to the report, local government body Cosla’s resources spokeswoman Gail Macgregor said: “Scotland’s councils reacted quickly, working alongside communities and partners, to address the unprecedented challenges created by Covid-19.

“Our staff always do their best for communities – delivering for them is what we do.

“The report is also right to point out, as Cosla has often said, that many challenges remain significant, and these are made more urgent by the multiple impacts of Covid-19 on communities and services.

“However no one is better placed to deal with these challenges than Scotland’s councils and as always we will rise to the challenge.

“In conclusion, today’s report is also very clear that local authorities require long-term financial certainty – this is to also be welcomed and would enable us to do an even better job than the one we are rightly being praised for today.”

Responding to the report, a spokesman for the Government said: “This year the Scottish Government will provide councils with a total core funding package worth almost £11.7bn.

“That includes revenue funding of almost £11.1bn and support for capital expenditure of more than £600m. In addition, councils will receive a further £259m of non-recurring Covid-19 support.

“The funding settlement not only gives local authorities the resources but also additional fiscal flexibility within the powers available to the Scottish Government to respond to the challenges that the pandemic has created.

“However, our powers to go further to support the recovery are limited and our calls to the UK Government for additional measures to be included in the fiscal framework have so far gone unheeded.”