By Bill Heaney

The Scottish National Party Government is leaving councils the length and breadth of Scotland in a dire position, Labour leader Anas Sarwar told Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions in the Holyrood parliament today.

He told MSPs: “Despite what Nicola Sturgeon claims, independent analysis shows that the budgets over which councils have control have been cut by £304 million in real terms, which has devastating consequences for vital services. Will the First Minister finally admit that she is cutting local government budgets?”

She refused however. “The Government is increasing local government budgets. The resources that are available to local government—if Parliament passes next year’s budget—will increase by £570 million.

“Of course, inflation is sky high right now—that is not a result of this Government’s policies—and that is affecting the Government’s budget. It is absolutely the case that local government is struggling with those financial constraints, as are all parts of the public sector and, as Anas Sarwar has just said, households. That is why it is important that we continue to support local government as much as we can.

Nicola Sturgeon with local SNP MPs Martin Docherty and Brendan O’Hara.

“Obviously, the budgetary process is still under way and will conclude following the February recess of Parliament. We will continue to discuss with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities ways in which we can help local authorities mitigate the difficult situation in which they find themselves.

“Last week, I invited Anas Sarwar to point to other parts of the draft budget from which he thought we could take resources if he wants us to give more money to local government. He might have sent those to my office—I do not know—in which case I will look at them, but I suspect that he has not come up with any reasonable, realistic or credible proposals in order for us to do that.”

Anas Sarwar looked dismayed by this glib response, and added: “The First Minister knows that we published a document showing £3 billion of waste under this Scottish National Party Government—that would be a good place to start.

“The First Minister wants to deny reality. The Fraser of Allander Institute, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Scottish Parliament information centre and Scotland’s councils, including SNP-led councils, are all saying that there is a real-terms cut to local government budgets. That is a truth that the First Minister is not willing to accept.

“There is no way for councils to balance their books without further destroying local services. All of Scotland’s 32 councils are united in opposition to the Government’s cuts. A presentation to council leaders last week said that cuts have ‘already fallen disproportionately on other council services—libraries, culture and leisure, sports facilities, youth work, waste, roads, parks.

Labour leader Anas SarwarCouncillors of every political party, including the First Minister’s, are angry and warning her of the dire consequences.”

“Those are cuts that have already happened in previous years. The presentation concludes by saying that the Government’s plans are ‘increasingly unrealistic, not sustainable, risk non-delivery of other statutory duties’,  and that they put ‘the financial viability of local government at risk’.

“Councillors of every political party, including the First Minister’s, are angry and warning her of the dire consequences, but Nicola Sturgeon is not listening. As usual, she is right and everyone else is wrong. Why can the First Minister not see the damage that her decisions are doing to our communities?

The First Minister replied: “All of us can accept that these are really difficult times for local councils. We will continue to work with and support them as much as we can. However, the draft budget that is before the Parliament right now has allocated all the resources that are at our disposal, including revenue from asking people who earn the most to pay a bit more in tax.

“I understand why members make the argument that we should give more money to local government, but any who do so have the duty and responsibility to point to the lines in the draft budget where they think that that money should come from.

“Should it be from the national health service, the police budget or social security? These are legitimate debates. However, if members want to be credible in such debates, they cannot argue only one side; they have to do both bits. That is what governing is all about.”

Anas Sarwar became angry at this point: “We can have an honest debate only if we get an honest answer from the First Minister. This is a real-terms cut to local government budgets, and the First Minister is out of touch with reality.

“Let us look at what is on the table and the options that councils are being forced to consider. Aberdeen is considering outsourcing all social work and children’s services. Falkirk is considering selling off more than 100 council buildings, including swimming pools and theatres. Glasgow is considering slashing care placements for children, which officials warn will compromise children’s safety and increase the risk of abuse and neglect.

“Enough is enough. Members need to get off their back[sides] and speak out against this First Minister, because, across the country, we are facing a future in which children’s music lessons are cut, libraries are closed and bins are collected only once a month. The blame for all that lies with Nicola Sturgeon and her Government. Wherever we look, we see that the Government is losing its grip.

“People used to say that the First Minister was competent; now, they are saying that she is out of control—and that is just people in her own political party. After 15 years of SNP Government, local government is in crisis, teachers are on strike and the NHS is on its knees. Will she finally admit that this is an SNP budget for cuts, closures and strikes?”

But the First Minister countered: “No matter how much Anas Sarwar raises his voice and shouts, it does not cover up the fact that he has not brought forward a single proposal, in relation to a budget that is fully allocated, for putting a single extra penny into local government budgets. He shouts because there is absolutely zero substance in anything that he says. ‘All sound and fury and no substance’ is a good summary of Anas Sarwar’s [points].

“He has asked about the real-terms position. The £570 million increase that I have spoken about is a real-terms increase of £160.6 million or 1.3 per cent.

“Secondly, Anas Sarwar raised the issue of the proposals that councils are looking at. At this time every year, councils look at a range of proposals. This morning, I have seen proposals from Glasgow City Council. The point is made that those are options and that no decisions have been taken.

“I remember claims being made at this time of year a few years ago that 15,000 jobs would be cut across local government. Since then, the number of jobs in local government has increased by 19,000.

“Yes, these are difficult times for local government, but if you want to propose that more money be allocated to local government within a draft budget that is fully allocated, to have any credibility, you also have to say where that resource should come from.

“In the absence of Anas Sarwar being clear about that, I can only assume that he wants us to take money from national health service or police budgets and give it to local government—or perhaps he wants us to take it from social security, such as from the Scottish child payment?

“If Anas Sarwar wants to be taken seriously, he must bring some substance to what is a very difficult debate and a very difficult situation for local councils across the country.”

One comment

  1. Away you go, starving the councils of cash. If they could stem the corruption and inefficiency then the bawbees would go further.

    Question for the Council CEO. Can we get a statement is WDC is liable for the circa £49 million that the Revenue are claiming Barr for. How did this happen. Din the Council not know. Did the council not know that Barr were dumping hundreds of thousands of tones of waste classifying it as structural fill.

    And now in addition the dump leaks following half the hillside containment slumping down the hill. Nothing like bit of post industrial toxic leachate pervading our soil, our watercourses,and into our food and animals.

    But hey, no ones interested

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