Local Government Funding

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:09 pm on 28th March 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland) 5:09 pm, 28th March 2018

The reality facing local government in Scotland is that the SNP has taken Tory austerity and more than doubled it, passing it on to local government. From 2013-14 to 2016-17, the local government revenue budget decreased at a much faster rate—minus 4.6%—than the Scottish Government’s revenue budget, which declined by only 1.5%. If we look at the local government finance order figures for 2016-17 to 2017-18, we see that the revenue budget for local government continues to fall, by 2.2%, while the Scottish Government revenue budget falls by only 0.6%. That is a conveyor belt and amplification of Tory cuts; it is certainly not mitigating Tory cuts in Scotland. That is very much clear from the SNP’s attitude.

The SNP budget was passed on 21 February, with the support of the Scottish Green party. The budget deal struck by the SNP and Greens does not stop Tory austerity, tackle poverty or redistribute wealth and power. For the second year running, Green Members of the Scottish Parliament have backed a nationalist budget, which will leave councils’ lifeline services further squeezed. It is a backroom stitch-up deal that fails to fund a proper pay rise for council staff or to deal with the child poverty that our councils face. As I have mentioned before, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said that it needed £545 million just to stand still, but the latest budget deal delivers only £159 million. I do not see much mitigation of local government cuts in that settlement.

Faced with a different path from that of the Tories’ austerity, the SNP has ignored it and rejected the progressive, radical package brought forward by the Labour party in Scotland. Audit Scotland has confirmed that in November last year accounts revealed that there is increasing strain on local government finances throughout Scotland. In 2016-17, a total of 19 out of the 32 councils in Scotland used cash from their revenue reserves—up from just eight that did it in 2015-16. This dipping into reserves is really going through the fat and into the bone. It is totally unacceptable. Indeed, over the course of the year, the overall amount held in council rainy day funds, or reserves, fell by £32 million. The Accounts Commission said:

“Councils are showing signs of increasing financial stress. They are finding it increasingly difficult to identify and deliver savings and more have drawn on reserves than in previous years to fund change programmes and routine service delivery.”

That is extremely worrying.

Labour’s alternative plan for the Scottish budget would deliver a nearly £l billion stimulus for the Scottish economy, by saving lifeline local services; increasing child benefit by £5 a week to put money back into the pockets of working-class families; and delivering an extra £100 million for our NHS. We also have a more radical tax policy than the one the SNP has proposed, despite the Scottish Government’s having unprecedented tax powers. The top 1% in Scotland own more wealth than the bottom 50% put together, but the SNP’s proposals on income tax just tinker around the edges, putting a penny on the top rate. Labour’s radical alternative would match the SNP’s starter rate, but would drop the threshold for the 45p rate to those earning more than £60,000 and introduce a new 50p rate for those earning more than £100,000.

Prospects would improve massively under Labour’s proposals. The SNP says that it cannot mitigate, but we have seen no effort to remove the public sector pay cap for local government. Public sector workers have faced years of cuts to their wages thanks to the pay cap. The current SNP proposals do not fully fund a pay rise and do not include all public sector workers—including those in local government. Labour’s proposals would. It is a radical package of proposals from the Labour party in Scotland. In addition to our tax plans, the further investment could be used to deliver more radical decisions on income tax and new economic powers to local authorities, including the ability to levy a tourist tax and a land value tax on vacant and economically inactive land. The latter is critical to my constituents, where 10% of land is vacant and derelict. Those are radical proposals from a radical Scottish Labour Government-in-waiting.