West Lothian Council claim the budget settlement will mean further cuts to local services

Local authorities have been told they will receive total funding from the Scottish Government of £11.3 billion in 2020-21.

Thursday, 13th February 2020, 7:29 am
Councillors will doubtless be debating the budget in due course.
Councillors will doubtless be debating the budget in due course.

However, many are claiming it goes nowhere near enough to funding the extra expenses they are being saddled with by the government for extra nursery hours, teachers salaries and minimum wage bills.

The settlement, it is claimed, provides councils with an increase in day to day revenue spending of £494 million, fully funds all Scottish Government commitments and provides an additional £100 million for social care, including a contribution of £25 million to ensure all care staff are paid the living wage.

Local authorities will again have the flexibility to increase council tax levels by up to three per cent in real terms, providing up to an additional £135 million to help deliver essential local services said the Scottish Government.

West Lothian Council sees their share of the cash pot in the 2020-21 Revenue Settlement set at £341.266m, with a further potential £4.048m in council tax increases, bringing the total funding to just over £345m.

However, the settlement has been described as ‘extremely disappointing’ by the Leader of West Lothian Council, Lawrence Fitzpatrick.

Official figures from local Government body COSLA highlight that there will be a £212m cut to core funding for Scottish councils in 2020/21. That includes: £95 million (one per cent)cut to councils in terms of their revenue budget and a £117m (17 per cent) budget cut in from their capital budget.

In West Lothian, council officers are currently assessing the full details on how the Scottish Government’s budget will impact on local services. The council was already assuming that approximately £33 million would be cut from local budgets over the next three years, £11 million in 2020/21 alone. Following the Scottish Government’s Budget Settlement, early assessment of the figures suggest that the 2020/21 budget cut in West Lothian will now increase.

Local services have been significantly impacted since 2007 due to increasing costs associated with increasing demand for services, combined with restrictions on council budgets. During this period Scottish Government grant funding has been insufficient to meet rising costs. £121m of savings have already been delivered since 2007.

Officers are currently working on detailed savings measures, which will enable the council to reduce costs, meet the budget shortfall and balance the budget. Councils have a legal obligation to set a balanced budget. The council’s options to bridge the budget gap are limited and include: developing additional savings measures which will impact on services and raising council tax.

The Scottish Government has quoted figures on the amount available to local government in Scotland based on an assumption that all councils increase council tax by 4.84 per cent. The council will set its budget and council tax levels for 2020/21 later this year.

Leader of West Lothian Council, Lawrence Fitzpatrick, said: “Sadly, it has become the norm to expect to have to bridge a budget gap and cut services following the Sottish Government’s Budget Settlement for councils. Following last week’s announcement, early indications suggest that our 2020/21 settlement from the Scottish Government is worse than initially assumed. Officers are working through the exact details but there will certainly be a significant budget gap which is extremely disappointing.”

Commenting further, he added: “Year after year, the Scottish Government’s funding to local councils is not enough to deliver local services and our communities have felt the impact of those real terms funding cuts.

“Even at this late stage we’d call for the Scottish Government to provide additional funding for local government for 2020/21 to help us protect vital local services.”

Rhoda Grant MSP, Scottish Labour’s Finance, Jobs and Fair Work Spokesperson responded to the SNP Government’s budget statement saying: “Despite the additional powers that have come to the Scottish Parliament over the last decade the SNP Government have failed to maximise their use, leaving our economy, our people and our essential services worse off. They have endeavoured to hide this through smoke and mirrors but they must come clean with the Scottish people.

“Scottish Labour wants transformational change, we want investment for the future. We know that we cannot reverse 13 years of mismanagement in one budget. So we have asked of the Scottish Government in this year’s budget is to take a step in the right direction, to take a step towards real change.

“Can the Minister please tell me exactly how their spending plans will meet our ambitions to invest in the future for all of Scotland? Will it actually tackle climate change? Will it allow our young people the freedom and independence to get to work and play? Will it educate our young people and workforce for the challenges ahead? Will it equip our Councils to protect our communities? Will it, for once and for all, put an end to delayed discharge?”

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Our budget will build on progress made over the last decade – with crime, including violence, at one of its lowest levels in 40 years, victims getting more support, and the reconviction rate at its lowest level since records began, helping to keep crime down and communities safe.”