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‘Respect our communities’: Highland Council leader issues cuts warning to Holyrood ahead of Scottish budget decision

Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson.
Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson.

Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson has warned that the region faces an “increase in the inequalities exposed by the pandemic” without a revised funding deal.

Councillor Davidson has backed calls from Cosla asking the Scottish Government for “fair funding” for local authorities ahead of the publication of 2021-22 budget tomorrow.

Earlier this week, Scotland’s Accounts Commission said there remains a “historic difference” in Scottish Government funding for councils compared to other areas.

The public spending watchdog’s annual report on local government finances revealed that funding for councils had reduced by 4.7% in real terms between 2013-14 and 2019-20 – compared to a 0.8% decrease for other areas.

Cosla’s resources spokeswoman Gail Macgregor said the report showed the “full picture” of the situation facing local councils.

She added: “The trend of recent settlements for local government needs to change because on top of existing pressures, the Covid-19 pandemic – as the Accounts Commission report recognises – has placed unprecedented strain on the finances of councils.

Councillor Gail Macgregor speaking at a local government and communities committee in 2019.

“Local government’s essential role has been magnified and once again we have delivered for our communities.”

‘The funding keeps our waste collections going, our potholes filled and our vulnerable children and older people safe’

Like many local authorities, Highland Council has faced years of budget blackholes and struggles to keep its services running.

Council leader Davidson has written to Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes ahead of this week’s budget.

She said the pandemic has brought additional pressures and the council is in desperate need of a funding deal that “respects [their] communities”.

Councillor Davidson said: “We need flexibility on how the budget allocated to councils is spent and an increased budget allocation to address the reduction in funding over recent settlements.

The Covid test centre in the Highland Council car park in Glenurquhart Road, Inverness.

“But while there has been a large increase in government funding this has been ring-fenced and local authorities have experienced a reduction in core funding which is the money that keeps our waste collections going, our potholes filled and our vulnerable children and older people safe.

“At the same time, actual costs and need have grown. That is where the squeeze is showing in Highland.

“It is why I have written to Kate Forbes this week to ask for fair funding for 2021-22 that respects our communities and echo Cosla’s stance that 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.”

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