Scottish ministers were last night accused of providing “derisory” funding for councils, despite the finance secretary announcing hundreds-of-millions of pounds of support.
Kate Forbes said the backing recognised the “key role” local authorities are to play in the journey to Covid recovery as she detailed bolstered revenue budgets for the Highlands, islands and the north-east councils next year.
Between them, they will receive more than £60 million more in 2021-22 than last year – if the government can win support for its budget from MSPs.
But concerned council chiefs said much of the increased funding was already allocated to things like social care services, the near-doubling of funded nursery hours and Ms Forbes’ suggested council tax freeze.
It also includes the £7.7 million pledge to support the inter-island ferries in Shetland, Orkney and Argyll and Bute.
Ms Forbes, who is also MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said: “This budget is being delivered in exceptional circumstances as we continue to battle a pandemic that has shaken our society and economy to the core.
“Just as we have chosen not to increase tax rates, ensuring people pay no more than last year, I have taken the significant step of offering funding equivalent to a council tax increase of around 3% to councils who choose to freeze council tax.
“I look to local government to join with me in providing the much-needed financial reassurance to those who are struggling.
“We need to focus on how we rebuild and renew our country and the funding I am providing to local authorities reflects the key role they will continue to play in that journey.”
With the details published yesterday afternoon, council officials were expected to work late into the night to understand what the proposed funding deal would mean for their residents.
While that picture was still developing, Aberdeen City Council co-leader and resources convener Douglas Lumsden, a Conservative, claimed his council’s extra £11.4 million would still leave them with “tough choices” in budget talks.
He told The P&J: “There is a pay increase that was handed to us, but we have to freeze council tax as we deal with the loss of income from parking and organisations like Sport Aberdeen and Aberdeen Performing Arts.
“On the whole, considering the huge extra grant the Scottish Government has been given, this increase is pretty derisory.”
Fellow Tory Andy Kille, the leader of Aberdeenshire Council, said: “These are only provisional figures, still being analysed, but it is well short of what Cosla had asked for.”
Numbers were still being crunched in the Highlands too, where concerns were also raised about how much of the extra money the local authority would actually be free to spend.
Council deputy leader Alasdair Christie said: “As the council, we welcome any additional money received towards various pressures and delivering services.
“With Cosla, we are trying to look at what the settlement means for local government.”
Moray Council leader Graham Leadbitter welcomed the announcement but said further work remained to be done on a new formula to divide local government funding in future years.
He said: “The proposals represent a more positive outlook than had been predicted, which will give us greater certainty and flexibility.
“That, combined with good stewardship of the budget, certainly puts us in a much better financial position than has been the case for some time.
“The funding that has been set aside for council tax freeze is extremely welcome and SNP councillors will be seeking support for that in the coming budget.”