Council anger as Holyrood cuts budgets

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The Scottish Government’s budget is a ‘bad deal’ says all local councils, including Argyll and Bute, as they face a cut in their funding.

The ‘bold, ambitious, progressive’ 2022-2023 Scottish budget, announced the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, would deliver a ‘record’ £18 billion for Health and Social Care, and ‘almost £12.5 billion for local authorities, representing a like with like real terms increase of 4.5 per cent and a fair settlement for councils’.

Welcoming ‘many positive announcements’, Scottish Land & Estates chief executive, Sarah-Jane Laing, said: ‘£831 million for affordable housing and significant investment towards energy efficiency, natural environment restoration and decarbonisation projects will help ensure Scotland is on the right track to becoming a net zero nation.

‘With the pandemic ongoing and the emergence of the omicron variant, it is also pleasing to see many rural businesses will benefit from a continuation of 50 per cent rates relief into at least the first quarter of 2022.’

However, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) described the budget as ‘a bad deal for communities’, and warned serious financial challenges in key service areas lay ahead for Scotland’s councils.

COSLA’s resources spokesperson councillor Gail Macgregor said: ‘This settlement represents £100m cut to our core settlement, before any other pressures such as National Insurance costs, pay or inflation are taken into account.

‘We wanted a budget for local government that enables people to live well locally – what we have is a budget that barely allows local government to survive.

‘We are left in a position where we do not have adequate funding to provide our range of essential services and support recovery from COVID.

‘In terms of council tax – whilst we welcome the removal of the cap and the recognition that this is a local tax that should be decided locally – we cannot put the burden of a poor settlement onto hard pressed families. That is simply not fair.’

Council leaders unanimously decided to raise these concerns at the highest level of Scottish Government. COSLA president councillor Alison Evison said: ‘The Scottish Government has to realise that cuts to our core budget hit the most vulnerable in our communities the hardest and are damaging to our workforce. That is why council leaders were unanimous today that we must fight for a fairer settlement.’

Argyll and Bute councillor Yvonne McNeilly (Cowal Ward), policy lead for education, said: ‘This terrible settlement has been roundly condemned by COSLA, which represents all 32 local authorities in Scotland, and no wonder.

‘It is inexcusable that ministers are leaving it to us to choose between cuts and tax rises while they squander millions of pounds on their pet political projects.’

Regional Conservative MSP Donald Cameron added: ‘It means that councillors will be left carrying the can, with the choice of cutting services for local people, or hiking up council tax.’

Mr Cameron also said the budget had ‘slashed’ funding of key government agencies in the Highlands and Islands. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) sees its budget cut from £67.6m this financial year to £64.3m for the next, while funding for Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd also falls from £91.4m to £71.3m, and declines from £3.8m to £3m for the Gaelic Capital Fund.

He said: ‘It is unbelievable that HIE, central to our efforts to revive the regional economy after the ravages of the Covid pandemic, once again has had its budget cut.’