By Bill Heaney
Council authority budgets have been slashed since the Scottish National Party came to power, according to Labour leader Anas Sarwar.
He asked Nicola Sturgeon: “Can the First Minister tell us what the total cut in council core budgets has been since 2013?”
She replied: “This year the Scottish Government’s budget was cut by more than 5 per cent and that the council total funding package is up by 6 per cent. Those figures are in real terms.
“During the period since 2013-14, the local authority revenue fund has gone up to £2.2 billion. That means it is 22.9 per cent higher, in cash terms, this year than it was in 2013-14. That compares well with Wales, where Labour is in Government and where the equivalent increase is 7.3 per cent. Councils are doing rather better under the SNP in Scotland than they are doing under Labour in Wales.”
Anas Sarwar was angry: “We always know when the First Minister is desperate, because that is when she starts talking about Wales. I remind her that she is the First Minister of Scotland and leads the Scottish National Party.
The answer that she was looking for was £6 billion. That is what has been cut from core council budgets. That is what this Scottish Government’s own figures tell us. There has been a £6 billion cut in local budgets since 2013. In Glasgow alone, that cut has been more than £1 billion.
“What does that mean in practice? It means a First Minister who tweets about reading books when, across Scotland, one in eight libraries have shut since 2010 after a £210 million cut to library budgets. It means a £320 million cut to street cleaning, meaning fewer staff, more charges and less frequent collection. It also means a £1.7 billion backlog in much-needed pothole repairs, leaving motorists to foot the bill for damage.
“The First Minister has taken a Tory cut, multiplied it, and handed it down to local government. Even when her budget goes up, she still cuts local government budgets. Nicola Sturgeon can spin all she likes, she can read out the stats in her little book all she likes, but the reality is that she is failing communities across the country.
“A moment ago, I gave Anas Sarwar the cash figures showing the comparison between Scotland and Wales for the period of time that he picked. Let me give him the local authority real-terms revenue figures. Since that period, local government revenue funding is 2.3 per cent higher in real terms in Scotland and, in Wales, it is 10.7 per cent lower. Where Labour is in government, local authorities do much worse.
“His figure of £6 billion is also selective and highly misleading because it completely ignores £3.6 billion of cumulative revenue funding since 2013. Let me show what Anas Sarwar is deliberately ignoring to get to his figure: £2 billion of additional funding for expanding early learning and childcare; and £720 million that goes directly to head teachers to support the most vulnerable children in Scotland. That is why Labour does not like the facts.
“Finally, we will take no lectures from Labour when it comes to funding in Glasgow. The SNP administration has had to pick up the pieces of the equal pay scandal that Labour presided over. Labour robbed women from across Glasgow of money that was rightfully theirs. I am proud of the fact that an SNP administration paid that money back.”
Mr Sarwar was unfazed: “That answer might have sounded good when the First Minister was practising it on the gravy bus on the way in, but communities across the country can see how she has decimated local communities. While SNP councils nod through SNP cuts and fail to put up a fight, Labour councillors here in Scotland are doing everything that they can to stand up for their communities and protect them from the cost of living crisis.
In Inverclyde, a £350 payment was delivered by a Labour council to 8,000 low-income households. In Glasgow, in contrast, the SNP council cut the £100 to help pensioners with the winter fuel payment. In West Lothian, discounted rail travel for the over-60s was delivered by Labour but, across Scotland, the SNP hiked rail fares and hit hard-pressed families. In North Lanarkshire, Labour has topped up the welfare fund, supporting hundreds of families. The SNP Government has refused to back Labour’s plans to do the same across the country.
“While Labour leads the way on tackling the cost of living crisis, the SNP prefers to make it a constitutional debate. After 15 years in government, maybe Nicola Sturgeon should stop pretending that she is in opposition and act to stand up for the people of Scotland.”
But Ms Sturgeon said: “In relation to what Anas Sarwar said about my having been in government for 15 years, let us look at benefits. It is this Government that supports the welfare fund; it is this Government that has established the Scottish child payment and increased it; it is this Government that has created new benefits—the carers allowance supplement and the young carers grant do not exist anywhere else in the United Kingdom, including where Labour is in government; it is this Government that has increased welfare payments by 6 per cent, not 3 per cent, as the UK Government has done; and it is this Government that has introduced the baby box and trebled early years education and childcare. All of that has been delivered by this Government.
“People will have the opportunity to cast their verdict on all that tomorrow, but it speaks volumes that Labour, after working hand in glove with the Conservatives in council administrations for five years in parts of the country, is in a scrap for second place with the Conservatives. That is the summit of Labour’s ambition.
“My ambition is to win the election, so that the SNP can go on delivering real improvements for people right across Scotland, and I am happy to let the people of Scotland be the judge of that.”
Top picture: Labour’s victorious 12 who were elected to West Dunbartonshire Council.