• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Councils: we are going to cut services because of our lower budgets

Local authorities are likely to stop providing some of their non-statutory services as a result of the financial pressures caused by their reduced budgets and the council-tax freeze, according to the body representing their chief executives.

While Scotland's 32 councils have sought to provide services in more "imaginative" and "creative" ways, the "significant levels of savings" they are required to make in the coming years will lead to service cuts, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (Solace) said.

Local authorities must deliver a council-tax freeze for the next two financial years while they also face a real-terms reduction in their resource budgets for 2014/15.

Holyrood's Local Government Committee was taking evidence on the 2014/15 draft Budget from Solace and Local Government Directors of Finance (Scotland).

Labour member Richard Baker suggested a 4.8% resource budget cut and the continuing council-tax freeze meant that reductions in services and increases in charges would be "inevitable".

Elma Murray, chair of Solace and chief executive of North Ayrshire Council, said: "My sense is that that is becoming increasingly difficult right now.

"I do think there are some things that we will have to stop or reduce to a very very limited level."

Ms Murray said an example of this was community centres which many councils help to fund and run.

"Local authorities have provided a lot of support in relation to community centres," she said.

"I think it will become increasingly difficult for us to maintain that. That is an area that a lot of us are looking at very carefully."

Ian Lorimer, chair of Local Government Directors of Finance, said the financial pressure was being increased by the return of pay inflation for local government workers, following a two-year pay freeze.

He added: "Pay inflation, albeit at a modest level of 1%, is coming back in, so if we found it difficult to balance our budgets when pay inflation wasn't a factor, it's going to be that much harder to balance budgets in a situation where pay inflation does come back."

In a written submission to the committee, Solace said particular issues facing councils include the implementation of legislation to integrate health and social care services, delivering the final phases of the Curriculum for Excellence in schools, mitigating the effects of the UK Government's welfare reforms, particularly Universal Credit, and the demand for services as a result of demographic changes.

The organisation said further assistance from the Government to mitigate the impact of welfare reform would be helpful.

Finance Secretary John Swinney defended the funding deal local authorities get as he insisted continuing the council-tax freeze was a "priority" for the Scottish Government.

SNP MSP John Wilson said there were "constantly" calls from "from various leaders of local authorities throughout Scotland about how much better it would be if they were unshackled from the constraints of the council-tax freeze".

He then asked Mr Swinney if the local government body Cosla or individual council leaders regularly pressed him on the issue.

The Finance Secretary said they only "occasionally" raised the matter with him.

"But I wouldn't say it's an issue I have felt has been raised with me with a determination it has to be changed," he added.

"The Government's priority is to maintain the council-tax freeze and to deliver that for the duration of this parliamentary term.

"I suspect there might be an element of local government leaders deciding to raise issues they might make progress on.

"They know they're not going to make much progress with me on abandoning the council-tax freeze."

He also said that before the SNP came to power in 2007 the share of Scottish Government cash that went to councils had been decreasing

"We essentially reversed that decline and the share of Scottish Government expenditure that is going to local government in 2014-15 will be higher than the share of expenditure we inherited when we came to office," Mr Swinney said.

The Finance Secretary added that recent financial settlements for local government had been "set against the backdrop of the significant financial constraints imposed on Scotland by the United Kingdom Government".

But he stressed: "We have honoured our commitment to maintain local government's share of the overall capital resources within the Scottish budget and delivered a settlement which is designed to address the challenging financial circumstances that we face.

"Between 2007-08 and 2012-13 the resources within the Scottish Government's control have increased by 6.4% and over the same period local government's budget has increased by 8.9%, demonstrating the strong financial settlements agreed with local government."

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

190938