Councils need more funding and power over taxes to deal with pandemic, COSLA says
Local authorities need to be better funded and have the power to set taxes if they are to play an effective role in helping the country move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, COSLA has said.
Unless councils are “properly funded” that they will “continue to face pressures to find significant savings to balance their significantly compromised books, which are under excessive strain following years of successive cuts,” instead of leading on the social and economic recovery, the local government organisation said.
A longer-term certainty to budgets, the removal of the council tax cap and a new fiscal framework for local government are some of the steps which COSLA says are necessary in response to the pandemic in order to avoid “inevitable cuts to services”.
Councils should also be at the centre of any work to introduce a national care service, which “should not be merely accepted as the necessary means of reform without proper consideration of its scope, resourcing and, vitally, its implications for local decision making,” it said.
COSLA made the recommendations as part of its ‘Blueprint for Scottish Local Government’, which was published today.
The document describes six thematic areas in which local government could play a role, including funding services and communities, wellbeing, education and children and young people, economy and the environment and supporting vulnerable communities.
Among the recommendations is a call for more funding, which COSLA says is more needed than ever because of the costs incurred through the pandemic.
It says: “Councils are now facing considerable additional costs, with the financial pressures for 20/21 currently estimated at £500m.
“This has immediate and long-term implications for Local Government’s ability to both manage the financial impacts of COVID-19 and continue to deliver essential services. That is why fair funding for Local Government must be a central priority for Scotland.”
It adds that a new fiscal framework should be developed for local government in order to “re-define its role in Scotland and its relationship with the communities it serves” and that: “the Scottish Government has recognised this and, as part of the 2020-21 Scottish budget, “committed to exploring a Fiscal Framework with Local Government”.
It also argues that the European Charter of Local Self-Government should be adopted in Scotland.
On health and social care reform, the document says: “Moving towards a National Care Service should not be merely accepted as the necessary means of reform without proper consideration of its scope, resourcing and, vitally, its implications for local decision making.
“Any National Care Service must be locally empowered, reflect the needs of our communities and recognise the vital role of the third sector.”
Local government should be “equal partners in determining the resources required” for any new funding models for health and social care, it adds.
COSLA’s vice-president, Councillor Graham Houston, said: “The blueprint we are launching today provides a narrative around the kind of country we want, and about the changes that could make a real difference to communities across the country.
“COVID-19 has changed the way we live. But pre-COVID, through COVID and after COVID local government is the anchor for communities in need.
“For children, young people and families; for local businesses; and for services that benefit our physical and emotional well-being and the environment. We work with communities and local organisations every day to bring about change and to make the voices of people heard and matter.”
“The value of local government can be seen in our response to COVID-19, where councils have taken decisive action to support communities, people, and businesses.
“Whether delivering food or medicine, providing shelter for the homeless, supporting volunteers or keeping many essential services running, local government has been the face of the response for many.
“The local government workforce, which is the largest in Scotland, has fundamentally changed the way it works to reduce the disruption caused to everyday life.
“Scottish local government must be further empowered to bring about the change we now need.
“The financial impacts of COVID-19 have been severe and have placed extreme pressure on already strained council budgets and on our workforce.