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The Scottish Government works in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on behalf of all 32 local authorities to negotiate a financial settlement that ensures that local authorities can continue to provide the high-quality front-line services that the people of Scotland expect and deserve.
As I confirmed at stage 1 of the Budget (Scotland) (No 4) Bill, the Scottish Government is providing local government with a substantial funding package worth £11.4 billion in total, which includes an increase to support for spending on core revenue services of £589 million, or 5.8 per cent, in 2020-21.
Figures released by the Scottish Government last week show that local authority debt has risen by nearly 15 per cent in just five years. It now sits at more than £18 billion, while Scottish councils run a deficit of £53 million, prompting COSLA to call for more funding in this year’s budget.
The amount of money pledged by the Scottish Government to councils this year is £6 billion less than their debt alone. When central funding is so low, how does the Government propose to help councils to conclude that without relying on additional council tax increases?
The fastest way to end austerity is to ensure that it is ended at source. That means ending Tory austerity. Chancellors have promised an end to austerity in 2018 and in 2019 and failed to deliver. We will wait and see what happens next week.
In terms of how local authorities use their resources, our policy is to ensure that local authority spending allows them the financial freedom to operate independently. They must use their resources as efficiently as possible and deliver services effectively to ensure that taxpayers get the best possible value. In this year’s budget settlement, we are ensuring that local authorities receive a total funding package of £11.4 billion to do that.
Scotland’s annual budget has fallen in real terms by 2.8 per cent over the past decade. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, when it comes to ensuring sufficient funding for local authorities, Tory members of the Scottish Parliament should join us in calling for that UK Government cut to be reversed? The hypocrisy of Tories in this Parliament is astounding.
I agree with Richard Lyle and call on all parties in the Parliament, including the Scottish Conservatives, to call for an end to UK austerity. Any influence that they might have on their colleagues in London to ensure that the UK budget next week delivers for Scotland would be welcome. Ensuring that they deliver on their manifesto promises would be a good start.