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COSLA warns of cuts to council services if local government does not receive a fair share of the budget

COSLA president Councillor Alison Evison - Image credit: David Anderson/Holyrood

COSLA warns of cuts to council services if local government does not receive a fair share of the budget

COSLA has warned of further cuts to council services if local government does not receive a fair share of this year’s Scottish budget.

The local government body said that the recent trend of cuts to local government funding needs to change because on top of existing pressures, the COVID pandemic has placed “unprecedented strain” on the finances of Scotland’s councils.

It is calling for what is calls a “fair funding settlement” of £12,135m in revenue and £637m of capital, which it says would cover Scottish Government policy commitments, restoration of previous budget levels and the cost of COVID.

In a briefing document, ‘Respect our communities: protect our funding’, published today ahead of the Scottish budget being set on 28 January, COSLA reports that once all COVID-related funding is taken into account a gap of around £360m still remains for this financial year.

It says COVID has caused financial pressures for councils due to a number of factors, including increased cost of services, reduced income from council tax and from fees and charges, and planned savings becoming unachievable.

Due to ongoing restrictions,  it predicts that income from services such as parking, libraries, museums, galleries and theatres, sports facilities, planning and school food is unlikely to recover until much later in 2021-22.

This is on top of councils’ core grant funding being reduced in real terms since 2013-14 as well as increasing demand and the impact of leaving the EU.

Nearly forty per cent of local government’s core funding from the Scottish Government is ringfenced, meaning it can only be used for specific purposes.

In 2020-21 there was £482m less general, undirected grant funding when compared to 2013-14, the local government body says.

In addition to setting out the specific funding it is looking for next year, COSLA also sets out a number of other asks.

These include that any additional COVID-related funding for 2020-21 from UK Government must

be passed on to local government, that any cash increase for 2021-22 from UK Government must be passed on and additional social care costs should continue to be met from health consequentials during 2021-22.

It also wants all Scottish Government policy commitments to be fully funded, a removal of the cap on council tax and an end to small pots of ringfenced funding.

Launching the report, COSLA resources spokesperson Councillor Gail Macgregor said: “This year, across every community in Scotland, local government’s essential role has been magnified and once again we have delivered for our communities.

“Nobody in Scotland has been unaffected by this pandemic and the financial impacts of COVID-19 are severe. 

“Individuals, families and businesses have all felt the effects and continue to look to councils for support every day. 

“Sustaining this lifeline support is placing extreme pressure on already strained budgets and without fair funding for local government this year, the consequences for the most vulnerable in our communities would be unacceptable.

“That is why we need fair funding for 2021-22 that respects our communities. 

“Without this, there will be further cuts to services, reductions in spending locally, increases in the inequalities exposed by the pandemic and a much slower recovery.”

COSLA president Councillor Alison Evison said:  “Local government’s role on behalf of our communities cannot be underestimated anymore.

“The COVID pandemic has shown exactly how much the public rely on us as leaders and as providers of vital services.

“The reality is that in recent budgets, the Scottish Government has chosen not to provide enough funding for the essential services that communities rely on day in day out.

“On top of this, this year we have had to contend with COVID-19 which has seen the inequality in our society grow.

“Our ability to recover from this and continue to deliver for Scotland’s communities depends on a change of emphasis from Scottish Government that provides fair funding for council services.

“If we are to truly recover from this pandemic then local authorities must receive a fair settlement.”

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