COUNCILS need an extra half a billion pounds just to avoid further cuts to already stretched services, Scottish ministers have been told.

Cosla, which represents local authorities, called for a 2.5 per cent increase in council funding in the upcoming Scottish Budget, insisting there are “no options left” for savings.

In a briefing document, it urged the SNP to ditch the 3% cap on council tax and allow local authorities to bring in their own charges – such as a tourist tax.

It also called for ring-fenced funding to be scrapped, as well as the sustainable reform of council tax and local government funding and for council-run health and social care services to be given a share of a £550m pot of cash earmarked for health spending.

The Scottish Government has already committed £352 million to funding early learning and childcare expansion in 2019/20, as well as for a free personal care extension and an increase in school counsellors.

But Cosla said local government budgets have fallen 10 times faster in real terms than the Scottish budget in the past five years, at 4% compared to 0.4%. It said councils now need an extra £549 million just to stand still.

Its report warned: "There is no room left for manoeuvre. There must be financial support for local government in the 2019/20 budget.

"If not, essential services will be at risk resulting in a detrimental impact on our shared ambition of inclusive growth."

Any financial threat to council budgets puts communities at risk, as well as local economies and the wider Scottish economy, it added.

However the Scottish Government said local government has been treated "very fairly".

Cosla president, Councillor Alison Evison, said: "Councils have made necessary and significant savings but there are now no options left.

"We cannot be made to cut our essential services without it having a wider, detrimental impact upon our communities.

"We have no capacity to take on additional initiatives, however beneficial the outcomes would be to our communities, unless the financial settlement is increased accordingly.

"I am calling on the Finance Secretary [Derek Mackay] to make sure this budget invests in local government so that together we can deliver inclusive growth for communities across Scotland."

Labour's communities spokesman Alex Rowley said: "The Scottish budget cannot continue this conveyor belt of Tory austerity for Scottish local government.

"SNP ministers in Edinburgh passing on these cuts simply harm our communities. These cuts hit our schools and social care, housing and roads.

"Labour wants to see a fair settlement for local government in the budget - an end to the SNP passing on austerity and a renewal of powers for our councils, such as having the ability to set a tourist tax."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Despite continued UK Government real terms cuts to Scotland's resource budget, we have treated local government very fairly.

"In 2018-19, councils will receive funding through the local government finance settlement of £10.7 billion.

"This will provide a real terms boost in both revenue and capital funding for public services."

She said Finance Secretary Derek Mackay will present the Government's tax plans in the Budget and is open to talks on options for local tax reform.