COUNCIL FUNDING: Almost one in four vacancies at “cash-strapped” councils unfilled

By Lucy Ashton

Almost a quarter of job vacancies at Scotland’s councils were never filled last year, according to new figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives.

Responses to Freedom of Information requests by the party reveal that in 2022/23, 6,457 of the 27,619 full-time jobs advertised by local authorities remained unfilled – that’s a whopping 23.4%.

Shadow local government secretary Liz Smith believes the “alarming” statistics are “the inevitable consequence of years of systematic under-funding” of Scotland’s councils by the SNP government.

She added that candidates may well have been put off applying because of job-security fears resulting from Scottish government funding cuts, coupled with ever more diktats ring-fencing the areas in which that money must be spent by councils. 

Liz Smith MSP said: “These alarming statistics are the inevitable consequence of years of systematic under-funding of Scotland’s local authorities by the SNP Government.

“At first glance it seems inexplicable that our councils are unable to find viable candidates to fill one in every four posts advertised.

“But when these councils are being forced to do more with less by SNP ministers – leading to cuts in essential services and, increasingly, strikes – the public are doubtless concluding they’re no longer secure or attractive employers.

“And it’s not merely lower-paid posts that are proving hard to fill – this total includes almost 500 senior management posts.

[In West Dunbartonshire, according to the trade unions, some of these posts carry a remuneration package of £100,000, but even now with a Labour administration, they have a poor track record as employers. Editor]

“The blame for this lies with the SNP Government, for cutting council funding to the bone, while simultaneously increasing the areas in which the spending of that money is ring-fenced.

“This must stop. It’s time for Humza Yousaf to follow Scottish Conservatives proposals for a fair funding deal for Scottish councils.”

1 in 4 jobs advertised by councils were not filled. Data obtained by the Scottish Conservatives through FOI from 30 out of 32 councils have shown that of the 27,619 full-time council jobs advertised in 2022-23, 6,457 were not filled when first advertised, amounting to 23.4% of jobs advertised. 485 of these jobs were senior management jobs. The council that struggled the most to recruit was North Lanarkshire Council, with 47% of positions failing to recruit on the first round, followed by Dundee City Council with 40% of jobs not filled. (FOIs available on request; spreadsheet of figures attached).

Scottish Councils are set to make £300 million in cuts to fill a black hole in their budgets. Councils across Scotland are set to make more than £300 million in cuts this year and this has sparked warnings that some councils may not be able to provide basic services. Analysis by the BBC has shown that 29 Scottish councils intend to make savings this year, with the steepest cuts being made by Aberdeen City Council which has identified over £43 million in savings. (The Scotsman, 21 August 2023, link).

John Swinney gave councils £570 million in the first instance and announced an additional £100 million during the Stage 3 Debate. Swinney said: “Last week, we confirmed that we would provide an additional £156 million from Scottish Government funds—£33 million in this financial year, plus a further £123 million next year—to support a new pay offer for teachers. That would see salaries rise by 11.5 per cent from April. I encouraged that proposition being put to teaching staff for their consideration. That additional funding for 2023-24 is on top of the £570 million increase in funding that has already been included in the local government settlement, and it takes the total additional funding for local government for next year to £793 million.” (Official Report, 21 February 2023, link) 

Council leaders agreed that the latest budget represents a real-terms cut in services. Local authority leaders unanimously backed a motion arguing that John Swinney’s budget will be detrimental to services. SNP Councillor and COSLA’s resources spokeswoman Katie Hagmann said: ‘Council services will now be at absolute breaking point and some may have to stop altogether. This is a result of cuts to our councils’ core budgets and direction on spend towards other Scottish government priorities over the last few years. Yesterday’s budget announcement compounds this and there is a real risk that many of our essential services will not only be cut, but may have to stop altogether.’ (BBC, 16 December 2022, link).

The SNP Government has systemically underfunded councils. Data produced by SPICe shows that over a ten-year period (comparing 2023-24 to 2013-14), local government’s provisional revenue settlement has increased by 4.3% in real terms, compared to the overall increase to the Scottish Government’s revenue budget (plus NDRI) of 8.3%, indicating that local government budgets have not increased at the same pace with the overall Scottish Government budget. (SPICe, 31 January 2023, link)

The Scottish Conservatives have proposed the introduction of a Communities Bill to introduce fair funding for our councils. In our 2021 manifesto, the Scottish Conservatives proposed a Communities Bill which would ensure that councils automatically receive a set percentage of the Scottish Government budget each year, mirroring the relationship the Scottish Government has with the UK Government. This would prevent the Scottish Government from under-funding councils and local services by failing to pass on increases in its own budget. (Scottish Conservatives, April 2021, link).

A recent GMB trade union meeting outside the Council offices in Dumbarton where there was criticism from employees about the way they are treated by managers. They say they are not only under-funded by the SNP but badly managed under Labour.

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