Changes to the block grants given to Councils announced in the Scottish Government Budget have left Fife Council with a projected £91 million budget gap over the next 3 years, with severe cuts to public services expected as a result.
A reduction in public spending allocated to local government in the UK Autumn Statement led to Finance Minister John Swinney to announce a 3.5 per cent cut to the block grant given to local councils for the next financial year. This comes on top of a real terms 8.5 per cent cut in Scottish Government funding to local government between 2010/11 and 2013/14.
Although the Finance Minister claims that the equivalent figure for English councils is 27 per cent, the proposed changes have nevertheless provoked significant opposition from figures in local government across Scotland.
Since the announcement of the budget in December, negotiations have been ongoing between local government association Cosla and the Scottish Government. The funding agreement as it stands, according to Cosla, is likely to result in £350 million of cuts across Scotland, although council tax will remain frozen. Talks appear to be in deadlock, with Cosla maintaining that the current proposals are unacceptable.
Fife Council in particular faces one of the largest shortfalls, with the Council admitting that the changes would require a significant ‘prioritisation’ of services. The different Council departments have all been asked to identify changes that can be made to assist in reducing the shortfall. An online consultation has also been launched, with the Council inviting Fifers to submit their views in advance of the budget being set on 11 February.
The deadlock between the Council and the Scottish Government appears to show no sign of abating, however.
In a statement, Cllr David Ross (Lab) equated the proposals from Mr Swinney to “highway robbery.”
He questioned the value of the Council Tax freeze, which remains a part of the proposed funding settlement.
The eight year freeze has been a key SNP manifesto commitment. He said: “Most people now realise that the council tax freeze is past its sell by date having been in place for nine years with no alternative means of funding local service put in its place by the Scottish Government.”
Cllr Ross also criticised the penalties that would be imposed on the Council were it to raise Council Tax, which he claimed could total over £10 million. It now seems increasingly likely the proposals may be challenged in court, with Cllr Ross saying: “I have asked the Council’s Chief Executive to seek legal advice on whether we can challenge these latest proposals from the Scottish Government in the courts on the grounds that they are completely unreasonable.”