SCOTLAND'S middle classes remain sheltered from the worst effects of council cuts with the less well-off to suffer if more public services are delivered nationally, local government's most senior official has warned.

Rory Mair, the outgoing chief executive of councils' umbrella group Cosla, said people relying on social care had been hammered by the continuing financial pressures facing local authorities while the "fairly well off in this country might not have noticed".

In an extensive interview on the eve of his departure he attacked the Scottish Government's focus on teacher and police numbers and hospital waiting times, claiming there was a danger vital services like health and education were being defined by "very very crude input measures" instead of their value to society.

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Mr Mair said an SNP-dominated local government in 2017 would come as no surprise, adding that he would expect Nationalist-led councils to challenge national party colleagues at Holyrood for their citizens.

He said: When this has happened before (during the Labour/LibDem coalition years) the local element of the Labour Party, the Labour group in Cosla, was most vociferous about the type of relationship it expected with national government.

"I don't think a larger group of SNP council leaders would simply say that how the party works nationally is more important than what happens locally."

Mr Mair leaves Cosla after 14 years at the helm at the end of this week, four months after announcing his retirement.

He steps down after a 40-year local government career during which he became the youngest-ever chief executive when appointed to the post in the former Ross and Cromarty district council.

The 59-year-old had a liver transplant in 2012 and received medical opinion last summer that a second transplant is likely to be required in the foreseeable future.

In a hard-hitting interview Mr Mair raised fears that the current financial difficulties facing councils could see more public services run by national government, which, he said, would fuel social inequalities.

He said: "The assumption is if you have a crisis pull everything to the centre, we've 32 education authorities, why not one education director for the whole of Scotland.

"Well, there's a link between that type of thinking and being a more unequal society than we were 50 years ago. Localism is the enemy of inequalities, centralism is the friend of inequalities." He added: "The focus on inputs does make easier headlines and the according of kudos for having achieved them easier.

"There's real effects on the focus on inputs, real effects that are not thought through and if we don't start thinking this through we're in real danger of having services defined by these crude inputs. It's a ludicrous situation.

"People are saying 'yes of course we care about the number of kids in a class but if a smaller number of kids in the class means every classroom assistant has been sacked and kids with particular needs are not getting the pastoral care they require then we're not up for that'."

He said that one of the big changes in recent years had been around care where services like meals on wheels and checks to see elderly people were not isolated were being phased out and help only given to those in acute need.

He said: "If you are fairly well off in this country and able to secure services you might not have noticed. But because you don't hear people who are in that situation taking about it doesn't mean that that change hasn't occurred."