Local authorities are independent democratically elected bodies with their own powers and responsibilities. Ultimately, it is for locally elected representatives to make decisions on how best to deliver services to their communities.
For its part, the Scottish Government is providing local government with a substantial funding package worth £11.4 billion in total, which includes an increase of £589 million or 5.8 per cent in 2020-21 in support for spending on core revenue services.
At the end of this month, people with vision impairments in Highland will lose the support of Sight Action, which is a statutory service for local government that is led by NHS Highland under the lead agency model. In light of the £205 million cut to the local government budget, what reassurance can the minister give my vision-impaired constituents that they will receive the support that they require after the end of the month?
I point Rhoda Grant to the additional money that we put into local government funding, and I ask her to recognise that local government is autonomous.
However, as I am not aware of the details that she mentioned, I am happy to engage with her and, if she wants to furnish me with further information, to look at that. We have a number of powers and policies in place to help people cope with visual impairments or any other disabilities, and we can furnish her with relevant information if her constituents need support and help.
Will the cabinet secretary set out how the Scottish Government, by providing a local government funding package in 2020-21 of £11.4 billion—91 per cent of which councils have complete autonomy to allocate—is ensuring that councils have the means to deliver services, despite years of United Kingdom Government austerity and cuts to the Scottish budget?
Colin Beattie is correct to point to the 10 years of continued austerity, which has had an impact on public services and public life. That is why we have endeavoured to treat local government fairly; it is why, when we came into office back in 2007, we endeavoured to take away some of the ring fencing; and it is why local authorities have autonomy with regard to 91 per cent of their funding.
Local authorities are responsible for how they spend their money, and it is absolutely correct for them, as democratically elected bodies in their own right, to have that autonomy. That is why we continue to work with them on the local governance review and why we want to provide further empowerment. Kate Forbes is working on the fiscal empowerment element of the local governance review to see what more work we can do together to rebalance democracy for the people of Scotland.