By Bill Heaney

West Dunbartonshire Council’s SNP group leader is being hamstrung by his Nationalist colleagues in Edinburgh when it comes to finance for hard-pressed local services.
It appears from a debate on the SNP/Green government’s cuts and more cuts over a period of 15 years that whether you vote SNP or not, there is no remission from the Nationalist claymore.
And there is not a flicker of amelioration for citizens from the Greens.
The old sporran is tight as ever whether you are a zealot like Cllr McColl and his followers on the Council or just a guy in the street occasionally sporting a kilt or even a See You Jimmy hat.

Tory Miles Briggs, pictured right,  told the Holyrood parliament this week: “After 15 years of this SNP Government under-funding local government in Scotland, there is increasing concern over the long-term financial sustainability of local government finances and the problems facing our Scottish councils that have been allowed to build up under this Government with no reform or leadership shown by SNP ministers.

“Put simply, council leaders across Scotland have nothing else that they can cut to save money and balance their books.

“How we adequately fund local government is vitally important, which I think we all agree on. For many individuals and families, the local services that they depend on are delivered by their council.

“SNP ministers have underfunded councils for many years. From 2007 to 2019, the Scottish Government’s budget increased at more than double the rate of the grant that SNP ministers passed on to local councils.

“The question today is therefore a simple one: why have SNP ministers delivered such a poor financial settlement again this year?”

Sympathy from a Tory must be small consolation for Cllr McColl and Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy Kate Forbes, who asked the same question as her predecessor, the disgraced Derek McKay, who treated these matters so seriously that he arranged to meet Cllr McColl in a pub to discuss them over a pint.

That was before Mr McKay ran away never to be seen on the Holyrood horizon again on the eve of the Scottish Budget when he would have had to have announced yet another raft of cuts.

Mr McKay remembered to pick up his salary and expenses though which, if I remember correctly, was around £12,000.

There was no financial impact on Cllr McColl, pictured left,  in the ensuing cuts. He continues to collect around £43,000 a year for pontificating and promoting SNP policies on Zoom from the comfort of his sofa at home.

Miles Briggs told MSPs: “We have been absolutely clear. The finance secretary has seen £3.9 billion of additional Barnett consequentials from the United Kingdom Government.

“That should be handed on to local government—that is where we on this side of the chamber stand. We want to see a fair deal for local authorities, whereby the funding that the Scottish Government receives is adequately handed on to local authorities.”

He added in response to a\ rebuttal from SNP member Neil Gray: “The member needs to understand that the Government that he supports has not handed on to local authorities the money that it has been given in Barnett consequentials—and it is not just Barnett consequentials; if we look at the national insurance contributions compensation, we see that that has not been passed on either.

“When the member raises those concerns in the chamber, he needs to speak to his own ministers to make sure that they have passed on those Barnett consequentials.

“In bringing forward this debate today, I hope that it will give the SNP-Green Government the chance to think again and look at how to provide a fair deal for councils and the resources that they need to deliver vital local services. I fully respect that the Government might not want to hear this from me, but maybe it should listen to its own council leaders.”

However, as far as The Democrat knows there has been no complaint so far at any rate from Cllr McColl on behalf of West Dunbartonshire.

Nipsqueak: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes keeping a tight hold on the Scottish Government sporran.

Mr Briggs said he welcomed this week’s U-turn by Nicola Sturgeon and the finance secretary, Kate Forbes, now affectionately jointly known for their chamber double act as Nipsqueak, that they will now meet council leaders after a furious backlash in response to the SNP-Green Government’s real-terms cut for local authorities.

He added: “It is clear that, as things stand, the budget settlement will see a real-terms cut of around £371 million to the core local government budget, which has been frozen in cash terms.

“In addition, analysis by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities found that additional policy obligations placed on local government in 2022-23 have been underfunded by around £100 million.

“SNP-Green ministers have repeatedly said that they respect and want to work in partnership with our local authorities. When the budget comes back to Parliament next week, we will see what that looks like.

“In the Government’s amendment, no answers have been put forward. All that we see is that ministers are offering a citizens assembly to look at sources of local government funding.

“SNP ministers do not need a citizens assembly to tell them that they are short changing local government—they simply need to pick up the phone to SNP council leaders.

“We need to see a sea change and a new partnership built between the Scottish Government and local authorities. That is why Scottish Conservatives are proposing a new fair funding formula to make sure that councils receive their fair share of funding when the Scottish Government does.

“Although the Barnett formula ensures that the Scottish Government’s budget is linked to UK Government spending, there is no such protection for local government and the services that it provides.”

He added: “The new fair funding formula would help to deliver a new financial framework that ensures that councils automatically receive a set percentage of the Scottish Government budget each year, mirroring the relationship that the Scottish Government has with the UK Government.

“That would prevent SNP ministers from consistently asking our councils to do more with less and it would prevent the situation that we see today, where SNP-Green ministers ring fence council budgets for their Scottish Government priorities on the one hand and cut council funding on the other.

“SNP-Green ministers cannot continue to simply pass the blame for their cuts to councils. The SNP-Green budget has yet again put council leaders the length and breadth of Scotland in the position of having to make huge cuts to services or dramatically increase council tax at the very time that ministers have received record levels of funding from the UK Government.

“SNP-Green ministers need to think again. The Scottish Government must provide the resources that are needed to fund our good schools and social care services, and it must properly fund our councils to help to build stronger, safer and more prosperous communities.

“That is something that we should all unite around. I hope that, as the cabinet secretary listens to the debate, she understands that she has to look again at the Government budget that she has provided.”

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