Budget (Local Government Services)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 1 November 2017.

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Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

2. Mr Mackay might tell us what he believes in once the First Minister tells him what he believes in.

To ask the Scottish Government how the budget will address the impact of reductions in local government finances to services in Lothian and across the country. (S5O-01396)

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

At least I have a leader I can believe in, which is more than the Labour Party has had for some considerable time.

The 2018-19 budget will continue to treat local government fairly, despite the cuts to the Scottish budget from the United Kingdom Government. The overall increase in spending power to support local authority services this year amounts to an increase of more than £383 million, or 3.7 per cent, compared to 2016-17.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

When Mr Mackay was a council leader, he believed in cutting the school week to save money. Now, council leaders are having to look at eye-watering cuts to essential services—services that civilise our community. How can we address the appalling health and other inequalities in our community when jobs will be lost and education, social work, environmental services, libraries and youth work will all be cut because of decisions being made by someone who used to be a council leader and who should know better?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

It is unfortunate that Neil Findlay wants to personalise the issue. When I was a council leader I was able to invest in schools—new build and refurbishment; target support in early years; expand free school meals across the area; and ensure that there was great support and that attainment was improved. I am proud of my record as a council leader.

I am also proud of my record as a finance secretary who has taken a number of actions, including delivering—not just talking about—the pupil equity fund to specifically target attainment in schools across the country, and delivering to local government a fair settlement, which I have described as an increase to resources for local government services. Of course I will work constructively with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities; indeed, I will meet it later today. We will engage in a mature and responsible discussion on financial matters, something which seems alien to Neil Findlay.

Photo of Richard Lyle Richard Lyle Scottish National Party

How many local authorities chose not to use their power to increase the council tax to fund local services?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

It might be a surprise to some Labour members, but it was actually eight Labour councils that chose not to increase the council tax but to freeze it. One could assume that the local government settlement was so satisfactory that those councils did not need to use those powers in an election year, although I would argue that they should have. Of course it is a matter for them, but all local authorities should use their local tax-raising powers responsibly. It remains the case that only Labour authorities chose to freeze the council tax, at the same time as telling anyone who would listen that they did not have the resources to do the job, when it was a very satisfactory and fair arrangement for local government across the country.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

Does the cabinet secretary agree that Edinburgh Leisure, which provides affordable leisure facilities on behalf of the City of Edinburgh Council, could be devastated by the twin effects of a cut to its budget of several hundreds of thousands of pounds next year and a potentially enormous bill for business rates if the Scottish Government takes on that aspect of the Barclay review recommendations?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

Gordon Lindhurst will be aware that many people welcomed my actions on the Barclay review, and that we went beyond a number of the Barclay recommendations. There are some recommendations that require further consideration and the issue of arm’s-length external organisations is one on which further engagement is on-going.

As we approach the budget and the end of the year, I will give further consideration to the implementation plan that I have previously announced.

ALEOs are given reliefs of approximately £50 million—I will check the record on that and, if I am off, I will confirm; I will double-check the figure, but I think that it is less than £50 million. To put that figure into some context, the overall settlement for Edinburgh in support of local services and in the tax changes that we made available amounted to an increase of nearly 4 per cent, which was an increase of more than £30 million for local services in the city.

I will continue to engage on the Barclay recommendations and will conclude the matter before the end of the year.