John Swinney has insisted that the SNP government has made the “maximum resources available” to Scotland’s cash-strapped councils.

The First Minister defended his administration’s spending plans after The Herald pushed him on cuts to a “transformational” school mentoring scheme in Glasgow.

The MCR Pathways programme supports vulnerable young people, including those in the care system, by matching them with a mentor.

READ MORE: Parents demand proof that mentoring cuts won't harm pupils

It has been credited with boosting attendance and attainment rates and helping more young people into employment, education or training after leaving school.

In February, The Herald revealed that the programme was to be scrapped as a result of the SNP-Green budget deal at Glasgow City Council.

The decision led to an outcry from teachers, parents, mentors and children, forcing a partial u-turn.

However, papers published by the council show the SNP-run authority is set to cut the number of staff on the programme by 50%.

The only way individual schools can prevent this is by redirecting Pupil Equity Funding, but that could mean cutting other programmes aimed at closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

According to the Accounts Commission, Scotland’s councils faced a funding gap of up to £585 million this year when setting budgets.

They warn this is estimated to rise by around £200m by 2026/27.

Some councils have blamed the black hole on the SNP’s surprise decision to freeze council tax for the year.

If they are unable to raise revenue through taxes then it could mean more cuts to services.

On Wednesday morning, the First Minister launched his party’s manifesto for the general election and hit out at what he described as the “eye-watering cuts” to be imposed by an incoming Labour government.

He says the party's "adoption" of a Tory fiscal rule to have debt on a downward projection within five years while at the same time promising no tax hikes can only mean spending being slashed.

In the foreword to the policy prospectus, Mr Swinney said he did not believe “Scotland can bear" more cuts.

Asked then how he could justify SNP-run Glasgow City Council’s drastic cut to MCR Pathways, Mr Swinney said the Scottish Government was taking “appropriate decisions” with the powers available to it.

“We've taken some hard decisions on tax. So we've got £1.5 billion pounds available to us to spend in Scotland today that we wouldn't have if we hadn't taken those decisions on tax.

“So we've expanded the resources available to us.”

READ MORE: Glasgow schools face major staff cuts for mentoring scheme

However, he said the “other much larger amount of money” that comes to the Scottish Government’s coffers, the block grant, was “being undermined because of austerity.”

“Now, if you look at what we've done with our budget for local government, for example, local government received in excess of a real terms increase in its budget last year.

“And so we're making the maximum resources available to local government we can do but that's in an atmosphere where our budget is undermined by austerity.

“So when I say our public services cannot bear any more austerity I make that point seriously.

“I know the public finances inside out, I spent 10 years as finance minister.

“I thought I was dealing then with financial challenges. They are of nothing compared to what we're dealing with now. And there are real human consequences of that.

“So this cosy consensus between the Labour Party and the Conservatives about sticking to the same fiscal rules and the same approach to the budget is going to deeply undermine Scottish public services and the public in Scotland need to hear about it.”