Labour leader Anas Sarwar with West Dunbartonshire councillors John Millar and Michelle McGinty.

By Bill Heaney

For the past 15 years, the Scottish Government has short-changed local councils, according to Anas Sarwar, leader of the Labour Party in Scotland.

He told MSPs: “It didn’t matter whether the Scottish Government’s budget went up or down; local authorities had their budgets cut. Now, they are at financial breaking point.

“Now, a leaked COSLA document reveals potential job losses on a massive scale. COSLA estimates that more than 7,000 jobs will be lost—7,000.

“This week, two of Scotland’s most senior councillors said that council services face being  ‘either significantly reduced, cut, or stopped altogether’,  and that ‘local authorities will have to consider cutting pupil support staff, libraries, youth work and other vital services”.

Mr Sarwar asked Nicola Sturgeon in a pre-budget meeting in Edinburgh: “Are those councillors wrong?”

The First Minister answered: “Councillors are not wrong to say that we live in times of real financial difficulty and constraint. That is true of the Scottish Government, and it is absolutely true of councils across our country.

“At this time every year, we hear such questions, as councils look at options that are put before them. Often, those options are not taken forward. However, it is important that all councils look carefully at how they balance their budgets, but that they do that in a way that also fulfils their priorities.

“In the budget for the financial year that is about to start, we are proposing an increase in the resources available to local government of more than £570 million. That is a real-terms increase of £160 million.

“Times are difficult for local government, but within the constrained financial resources that we have, which will be increased by decisions that we are taking—we are proposing to Parliament that we ask those who earn the most to pay a bit more—we are treating local government as fairly as we can.

“Finally, I make an invitation to Anas Sarwar and to any member across the chamber: if, as we go through the budget process, they have a proposition to give more money to local government, they should by all means make that suggestion, but they should also tell us where in the budget we should take that money from. That is the only grown-up and mature way to approach budget deliberations.”

Anas Sarwar was not a happy man. He asked: “Why are the councillors whom I quoted considering budget cuts? They are considering cuts because of decisions that the Scottish Government has made—there have been £6 billion of core budget cuts since 2013-14.

“The words that I quoted were the words of Scottish National Party councillors Shona Morrison and Katie Hagmann, who are the president and the resources spokesperson of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. Those two SNP councillors have been brave enough to say out loud what the SNP Government knows is the truth.

“Councillor Hagmann also said: ‘Councils are left with little choice other than to potentially raise council tax, raise our fees and charges, or cut or potentially even stop our vital services that we are currently providing.

‘When she was asked whether council tax might have to rise by as much as 10 per cent, she said: ‘all options are very much on the table’.

“The public are being asked to foot the bill for public services that are getting worse by the week because the Scottish Government has underfunded councils for 15 years. First Minister, why are people across Scotland being asked to pay more for less?”

More, according to some commentators could be as much as a 25 per cent increase in council tax.

The First Minister was adamant: “That is not the case.  We have put forward a balanced budget. We have allocated all the resources that we have at our disposal. Within that budget, we are increasing local government resources by more than £0.5 billion.

What do you want me to cut – police, health services or teaching budget, asked Sturgeon.

“If Anas Sarwar is saying that he thinks that local government should get more money than that, let him bring forward that proposal but also tell us—because there is no un-allocated pot of cash—where we should take the extra money from. Should it be from the national health service? Should it be from the police? Should it be from the central Government education budget? Those are real questions.

“If Anas Sarwar is standing here arguing for a bigger increase for local government—which is legitimate and which he has a right to do—and if he wants to be taken seriously, he must also say where that money should come from. I am waiting for, and am open to, any suggestion that Anas Sarwar wants to make.

But Anas Sarwar told her:  “The First Minister wants to ignore all this Government’s waste, the vanity projects and the money hidden behind the sofa for the deal with the Greens. We have had cuts right across the country, and she knows that she has taken the decisions that have slashed council budgets. For 15 years, the SNP has underfunded councils, even when her ministers had more money to spend.

“People across Scotland are now facing the double whammy of increased income taxes and hikes in council tax. That means that taxes will go up—not only for the richest but for almost every household in Scotland—but that services will still be cut.

“Now, a leaked COSLA document reveals potential job losses on a massive scale. COSLA estimates that more than 7,000 jobs will be lost—7,000. Here is what council leaders from her own party say:

“This budget settlement will have a detrimental impact on vital local services. It will lead to the loss of jobs both within local authorities and within the local companies who supply goods and services to councils.”

“After 15 years of command and control, things have got so bad that many of Nicola Sturgeon’s own colleagues are no longer willing to blindly follow orders. Her MPs have lost faith in her strategy, her councillors have lost faith in her decisions and now her MSPs face a choice. Will they vote through those cuts or will they finally—finally—stand up for their local communities?

One comment

  1. Quite frankly the public service of local government is a great idea gone horribly bad.

    Inneficiency and corruption swallows up a huge proportion of far too many local authorities. And then they moan about not enough cash.

    Labour were rotten. But after 15 years of SNP they’ve done nothing whatsoever to eradicate the rot.

    NuLabour, NuSNP?

    Well, pig looked at man, and man at pig, and they were both the same.

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