Councils call for clarity from Scottish Government over 'confusing' funding messages
Councils body Cosla is calling for the Scottish Government to provide "clear and consistent facts" for the public over cash for local services.
SNP councillor Katie Hagmann, Cosla's resources spokesperson, said: "The messaging is that there is more money for essential services each year despite this not being the case, with councils asking communities about where they want to see cuts and reductions if essential services, like schools, roads, waste collection, child and adult protection, environmental health and social care are to continue to be delivered, every day of every year."
Cosla, which represents the country's 32 local authorities, says "early and proactive discussions" are needed to "avoid an annual public argument about the reality of what can and cannot be afforded by councils".
It sought a £1bn real-terms increase from the Scottish Government and says the £38m received is "simply not good enough". Cosla claims that while local government spending decisions are "increasingly directed by the Scottish Government", the way council finances are laid out by the government is "potentially confusing for the general public".
Hagmann said: "In 2013-14, the local government funding settlement was worth £10.3bn. Looking to 22-23 the Scottish Government provided £12.5bn. This does equate to a £2.2bn cash increase. However, that increase is heavily ringfenced and directed funding for core services and local priorities has stayed the same."
She went on: "For 2023-24, Scottish Government has stated that councils have seen a '£570m increase in their budgets' but the reality is, that only £38m of this can go towards pressures such as inflation, pay and service demand with the rest is for policy commitments that are already in the system, for example £100m to meet Real Living Wage commitments in social care."
The comments follow last week's publication by the Accounts Commission of a report into local government finance.
Responding to that paper, the Scottish Government said it recognised that councils face "challenging financial circumstances".
A spokesperson stated: "The Scottish Government's settlements from the UK Government have suffered a decade of austerity, with average real-terms cuts of more than five percent equating to a loss of £18bn.
"Despite this, local authority revenue funding is £2.2bn, or 22.9 percent higher in cash terms in the current financial year than it was in 2013-14.
"While ring-fenced funding is for increased investment in services like our schools and nurseries, local authorities will have autonomy to allocate over 93 percent or £12.3bn of the funding we will be providing in 2023-24, plus all locally raised income."