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by Louise Wilson
01 October 2020
COSLA calls for more budget flexibility to respond to economic crisis


COSLA calls for more budget flexibility to respond to economic crisis

Local authorities must be given greater flexibility in how they can spend the money allocated to them by the Scottish Government to help deal with the coming economic crisis, the vice-president of COSLA has said.

Speaking to Holyrood’s Politics Explained conference, Councillor Graham Houston said this was “absolutely crucial” if the aims of lifting people out of poverty and closing the attainment gap were to be met.

He also called on councils to learn from the processes they have put in place over recent months, in terms of improvements to speed of response to local issues.

He said decision-making processes had been shortened and councils have shown they could be “less bureaucratic” – and they must “hold on to that”.

The amount of ringfenced money given to councils has increased in recent years.

Houston suggested it would be better to move back to a model which saw councils sign up to outcome agreements with the government, but were left to deliver on those commitments how they saw fit.

He said: “That was a better working relationship and a stronger sense of partnership working, and councils were then held accountable for delivery of what they say they’re going to deliver. It’s that fiscal flexibility that is required.”

He also said councils would need to help drive the economic recovery from COVID.

He added: “Without doubt, it will be supporting economic recovery which will be the driver for everything else – those in our marginalised societies, how we are going to lift people out of poverty, how we are going to address attainment gap.

“All of that comes through, I think, having a good, solid, economic base with which to work so the way that we can encourage business ventures to get going and increase employment.”

It follows Unison warning MSPs yesterday that the pandemic will create a “£1bn budget gap” in local government.

Johanna Baxter, head of local government at Unison, said: “We need to ensure that councils are at the forefront of economic recovery.

“They are one of the anchor employers in many areas and so it absolutely makes sense that they are empowered and at the forefront of that recovery through developing new income streams, establishing, for example, municipally owned bus companies, the establishment of community investment backs and enabling the transition to green energy.”

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