Talking Point: Money, money, money

Written by on 3 July 2014

To paraphrase Jessie J – not something you’ll find me doing often in this column – unfortunately, in the world of local government, it is all about the money. Last week, the Local Government Association (LGA), the umbrella organisation for councils south of the border, said local authorities in England face a funding gap of £5.8bn between March 2014 and the end of 2015/16.

LGA said councils will need to make huge savings before next April, equivalent to 12.5 per cent of their total budgets, and the figures provide a “stark warning” that the successful integration of health and social care next year is vital to save the care system from collapsing.

The organisation’s research found the shortfall in council budgets will be caused by a combination of reduced government funding and rising demand on services, in particular from growing numbers of elderly people. While these figures don’t apply to our 32 councils, it’s vital local government in Scotland keeps a firm eye on what’s happening to their English and Welsh counterparts. In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament passed substantial legislation in February, which will see health boards and local authorities establish integrated partnership arrangements, and delegate budgets and functions to them.

In other departments, councils are being forced to make ongoing savings in a bid to alleviate their squeezed budgets, and conversations about how local government is paid for overall are still ongoing. Labour’s Sarah Boyack said recently that Scotland needs to reform local government finance, “with property-based taxation that is fairer, sustainable and progressive in order to ensure sufficient funding of vital public services”.Indeed, Holyrood’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee released a piece of work which recommended an independent cross-party commission is established with a view to reviewing local authority funding, with a new financial system being identified in time for the local government elections due to take place in 2017.

It’s heartening to see local government finance remaining at the centre of debate, and particularly interesting to see the committee recommending a much needed review. Local government is vitally important to the lives of thousands of people but it must be sustainable – it’s time for a long hard look at the figures to see what can be done to ensure they balance, both today and for many years to come.

Since last time... enjoyed a stroll round the Glasgow Botanic Gardens...called in pest control to deal with my mouse in residence...became lost and disoriented in the Decathlon store in Glasgow Fort

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