North Lanarkshire Council’s leader has warned that its services face being “significantly reduced, cut or ceased altogether” as the authority faces a projected budget deficit of nearly £75 million over the next three years.
Jim Logue says councils across Scotland are set for “tough choices” which “come down to reducing [or] stopping services and ultimately reducing the number of jobs”.
He spoke out ahead of Thursday’s Holyrood budget and in support of a letter sent by the finance directors of all 32 councils across Scotland to the Scottish Government highlighting their concerns about local government funding.
A report presented in September to North Lanarkshire’s policy and strategy committee advised councillors of an envisaged budget gap totalling £74.8m over the next three years – beginning with the figure of nearly £38m in 2023-2024.
Local government organisation Cosla, which has launched a “save our services” campaign ahead of the December 15 budget, says Scotland’s councils face an estimated £1 billion of pressures; and Councillor Logue says that means “tough choices that will impact on the services that the public rely upon”.
He told Lanarkshire Live: “This includes issues relating to schools, waste, roads, family support, public health and social care – the choices come down to reducing services, stopping services and ultimately, reducing the number of jobs [which] is bad news for individuals, families, communities and economies across Scotland.”
Echoing the finance directors’ “unprecedented” pre-budget letter, Councillor Logue said: “There are current financial challenges with rising prices, inflation and soaring energy bills.
“We have still managed to deliver balanced budgets against the context of real-term cuts; these were set during times of low inflation and relatively stable demand. To continue such a model of funding against the backdrop of such exceptional circumstances places councils and the services they deliver at significant peril.
“I urge the SNP government to understand that there will be significant consequences if local government funding is not increased given the current financial pressure and this will be detrimental to those who are most vulnerable; I hope the letter from the directors of finance demonstrates the severity of the situation and that [deputy first minister] John Swinney will give consideration to the issues they have raised.”
Signed by both the North and South Lanarkshire finance heads along with their 30 counterparts across Scotland, the letter to Mr Swinney highlights “significant and concerning challenges facing local government”.
It outlines rising energy costs, interest rates and inflation, increased demand for support and reduced income caused by the cost of living crisis, and asks for increased council funding to avoid a detrimental impact on services including directing Barnett consequentials from the UK government towards councils.
The letter and its requests were raised this week at the Scottish Parliament by Central Scotland member Mark Griffin, who asked the Deputy First Minister to review council spending plans “given the scale of the crisis engulfing local government”.
Mr Swinney, currently also filling the role of finance secretary, responded: “I recognise the gravity of the financial challenge; I am dealing with the profound implications of inflation, public sector pay and energy costs, and those implications will be felt by public bodies the length and breadth of the country.
“Part of the dilemma we all face is that the finance directors asked for Barnett consequentials to be targeted to support the vital services that local government provides – if I followed that, no extra money would be given to the health service. I have to take a balanced position.
“I will set out the financial support for local government in the budget next week. Parliament should be under no illusion that we are facing the most challenging budget circumstances since devolution.”
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