I congratulate the Finance Committee on its comprehensive report, and I thank the clerks who put it together. In my speech tonight, I represent the interests of my constituents across Glasgow and my colleagues in local government.
This budget could have addressed the most dire economic circumstances that we have faced for a generation. Local authorities are the very last line of defence against Westminster austerity and Holyrood point scoring, using their scarce resources to mitigate the worst excesses of both. However, the budget limits the power to provide any real form of relief for disabled people, those on low incomes and those who are most reliant on public services—the most vulnerable in our society.
The biggest challenge that local authorities in Scotland face concerns their ability to continue to serve their communities in the face of the underfunded council tax freeze. Our councils are forced to raise funds in other ways, and have done so principally through increasing the charges for the non-statutory services that they provide, which are services that are often relied on by those who are most in need. I have been contacted by a number of constituents and local organisations, who tell me that the financial settlements from the Scottish Government are really beginning to affect them personally. They say that local services are facing increased demands and higher costs, leading to far more pressures being placed on the vulnerable groups and those with additional support needs.