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Cosla demands fair budget settlement from Scottish Government in face of unprecedented pandemic burden

Councillor Gail Macgregor, spokesperson for Resources COSLA
Councillor Gail Macgregor, spokesperson for Resources COSLA

Communities across Scotland will face damaging consequences if local government does not receive a fair funding settlement this year, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) has warned.

Cosla has produced a briefing document ‘Respect Our Communities: Protect Our Funding’ outlining the costs of Covid to councils, and lobbying for an increased budget allocation to address the reduction in funding to councils over recent settlements.

The document points out that to support the pandemic response, Scotland has had guaranteed additional funding from the UK Government of £8.6bn, and the Scottish
Government has routed £1bn through local government.

The Scottish Government says working in partnership with Cosla it has provided support for local services worth up to £750 million, giving them the powers they need to make informed decisions about spending.

“Taken together with the additional £382.2 million of funding that has already been committed, this brings the value of the overall Covd-19 support package for councils to more than £1 billion.”

But Cosla says the pandemic has placed unprecedented strain on councils, including from having to administer 30 different ring-fenced/directed pots of funding and instability caused by the ‘drip feed’ of funding.

Councillor Gail Macgregor, Cosla resources spokeswoman, warned of the severe impact of the pandemic across the country.

She said: “Nobody in Scotland has been unaffected by this pandemic and the financial impacts of Covid-19 are severe.

“That is why we need fair funding for 2021/22 that respects our communities.

“Without this, there will be further cuts to services, reductions in spending locally, increases in the inequalities exposed by the pandemic and a much slower recovery.”

Cosla president Alison Evison said the pandemic has shown how much the public relies on councils.

“On top of this the pandemic has seen the inequality in our society grow.

“If we are to truly recover from this pandemic then local authorities must receive a fair settlement.”

Moray council leader Graham Leadbitter, (SNP) said Moray has ensured that critical services continued to be delivered.

He said: “I know that is recognised by Scottish Government ministers and it is important that councils put forward a clear and strong position to both the Scottish and UK Governments on the levels of funding we will need in order to carry out that job of work and get the best possible results.”

Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said Cosla is  right to raise the concerns.

“While councils across the Highlands and islands have stepped up to provide support to individuals and businesses, this has put a real strain on their resources.

“Those same councils were already creaking at the seams as a result of years of unfair financial settlements from the SNP government in Edinburgh, with vital local services threated, cut back or lost entirely.”

Highland council leader councillor Margaret Davidson (IND) said: “Local Authorities do need a fair deal this year as never before. Our staff and service have been magnificent during the crisis and still are doing their level best for Highland.

“The Cosla position paper clearly shows the money local government has lost from its core budget over the past seven years plus also correctly challenges government to distribute all the cash they have been given, to the front line.

“We need to know what can expect at the budget so we can plan. In England and Wales they have known for a month at least what their settlement will be.  That would be very helpful all round.”

Aberdeen Council leader Jenny Laing (LAB) said:”We are heavily reliant on self-generated income, so the pandemic is having a serious impact as we lose much of that and see our income reduced significantly.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Decisions on local government budget allocations for future years are subject to the outcome of the on-going negotiations with Cosla, the results of which will be confirmed in the Scottish Budget on January 28.”

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