Sustainability of Council Services (Discussions)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 6th December 2017.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions the Minister for Local Government and Housing has had with councils regarding the sustainability of services. (S5O-01555)

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities to discuss a range of issues as part of our commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for all the people of Scotland. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution has met a number of individual councils and is currently undertaking a series of meetings with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities ahead of his 2018-19 draft budget announcement next week, which will include the local government finance settlement for next year.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

The minister will be aware that the Scottish house condition survey of 2015 highlighted that 8 per cent of our housing stock is in extensive disrepair, 33 per cent is in disrepair and requires urgent attention, and 73 per cent of all dwellings have a degree of disrepair. What assessments has the Scottish Government made of local authorities’ abilities to fund and repair their deteriorating properties? What funding has the Scottish Government made available to local authorities to address that growing problem?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Local authorities manage their housing budgets through their housing revenue accounts. Beyond that, on affordable housing, John Scott will be aware that the Government is committed to £3 billion of investment over the course of this parliamentary session to deliver 50,000 affordable homes, of which 35,000 will be for social rent.

Budgets would be much easier for all of us to deal with if it were not for the fact that the Tories will cut this Parliament’s budget by £500 million over the next two years. That is the Fraser of Allander institute’s figure, not the Government’s. The Tories constantly carp about spend, but the reality of Tory policy is the Tory agenda of cuts to public services, austerity for the poor and tax cuts for the rich. I wish that John Scott would talk to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask for an end to those policies.

Photo of Richard Lyle Richard Lyle Scottish National Party

I would have thought that John Scott would have known that a housing budget is entirely separate from a revenue budget. I was a councillor for 36 years, and I know that.

Will the minister confirm whether the 2017-18 finance settlement, including the increase in council tax and health and social care integration funding, means that local government has an extra £383 million, or 3.7 per cent, in support for services, compared with 2016-17?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Richard Lyle is very aware of housing revenue accounts and how councils spend from them: it is a pity that Tory members do not seem to be aware of that. [

Interruption

.] The Tories are snickering from the sidelines: they would do well to do a bit of homework on local government finance.

Richard Lyle is absolutely right. With all the measures that were put in place, including council tax reform, health and social care integration and other moneys, there was an extra £383 million for local services last year. An additional £21 million would have been available for local services if eight Labour-led councils had chosen to increase their council tax revenues, but they chose not to do so. Those councils were Labour-led Aberdeen, South Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian. It will be interesting to see how they react this time round.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

I am surprised that the minister did not reference the recent Convention of Scottish Local Authorities report that demonstrated how much the Scottish National Party Government has penalised local government, which has resulted in £1.4 billion of cumulative cuts and 15,000 job losses.

In terms of the common budget, is this Government finally going to get off the fence, use the powers of this Parliament, take some responsibility to promote progressive taxation and give local government the fair funding settlement that it deserves?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Mr Kelly’s question is a bit bizarre in some regards: I would have thought that he would point the finger very firmly at the Tory Treasury and its austerity policies, which have led to massive budget cuts over the piece for this Parliament.

In real terms, over the 2010-17 period, local government’s share of the Scottish budget has stayed the same. Over the 2016-18 period, local government’s share of the budget fell by just 2 per cent. [

Interruption

.] However, Mr Kelly and his colleagues—I can hear Ms Baillie from the sidelines—should go and look at what has happened to local government funding south of the border, where some councils have faced 40 per cent cuts, under Tory rule.