The Scottish Government’s recently published draft budget states “Local government is a critical partner in leading the transformation of public services and enabling the innovation, co-production and partnership-working that is needed to radically improve wellbeing and outcomes for people and communities across Scotland.”
Fine words, but is the Scottish Government putting its money where its mouth is?
Tucked away in an annex to the budget document is a comparison of budget allocations by portfolio since the SNP’s first full budget in 2008-9. I have extracted the main portfolios and displayed them below as a chart and a table.
What they show is that local government is the only major portfolio to show an overall reduction in spending. The cynic might say, in difficult times push the difficult decisions as far away from ministers as possible – the ‘not me guv’ school of spin.
Even these tables mask real cuts in funding. The apparent increase in funding over the next two years comes largely from increased revenue from Non-Domestic Rates. The General Resource Grant to councils is being cut from £7.189m this year to £6.971m next year and £6.809m the year after. In real terms the cut is even larger - £6.841m and £6.564m.
In addition, a significant amount of spending is either ring fenced or has to be bid for like the Council Tax freeze, small business bonus, teacher numbers, police numbers (until totally centralised), change funds etc. Ministers get to make the ‘good news’ announcements, while councils announce the pain.
No one disputes that the Scottish Government has to manage a difficult budget imposed by Westminster. But within that budget there are choices to be made and councils are clearly the losers.