North-east council leaders have spoken up about budget pressures and say they face “big, serious choices” over the provision of key public services.
Aberdeenshire and Moray councils joined Aberdeen SNP boss Christian Allard in “pleading” for extra government cash to help balance their budgets.
Their appeal comes after a bankruptcy warning from council leaders across Scotland unless more Scottish Government funding can be found.
Birmingham and Nottingham councils effectively declared themselves bankrupt in England already.
While none of the north-east councils go as far as repeating that warning locally, each one is open about the severe financial challenges they face.
Gillian Owen, leader of Aberdeenshire Council, said it is possible that “all services” will be affected due to the “scale of pressures”, even if they are priorities of the council.
The local authority needs to make savings of £65 million with factors including inflation and increased pay awards for staff.
First Minister Humza Yousaf made the decision to freeze council tax next year, which is one lever councils use to generate cash.
The SNP leader has promised the policy, which was agreed without consultation with local councils, will be “fully funded”.
But two months on, details have yet to emerge on how much money local authorities will get to compensate.
Moray needs to save £15m
Meanwhile in Moray, Kathleen Robertson, leader of the council, said the situation is “very difficult” with councillors forced to find savings of £15m over the next two years.
She indicated cuts could fall across leisure and sport facilities and says the local authority will need “radical thinking” about how it delivers services going forward.
Ms Owen, who leads Aberdeenshire Council, told the P&J: “The ask is £65m and that is still an incredible ask. We have got some really big, serious choices to make.
“We will be taking account of public views from engagement, but it is possible that all services will be affected due to the scale of pressures, even if they are priorities for all.”
The Conservative councillor has urged the Scottish Government to “wake up to the call that local government can no longer be starved of cash”.
She would also like to see local government body Cosla look again at its funding formula which decides how much each council gets.
Ms Owen added: “Everybody’s eyes are now on the settlement from the Scottish Government and what the council tax freeze will mean in reality.”
Ms Robertson said the outcome in Moray is “bleak”, highlighting the council tax freeze “starves” local authorities of one of their main levers for raising income.
She also emphasised the need for councils to “transform” the way they deliver their services against fast moving financial constraints.
One example she gave is looking at how councils use technology to provide library services, pointing to the idea of ordering online and having books delivered.
Ms Robertson said: “There could be different ways of looking at how we deliver services.”
On Monday, Mr Allard, co-leader of Aberdeen City Council, warned the financial situation in Aberdeen remains “very difficult” despite controversial cuts his administration took in the last budget.
Six libraries and a swimming pool closed their doors after budget cuts in March.
SNP reacts to bankruptcy claim
The Scottish Government was challenged at Holyrood on Tuesday to say what steps it is taking to protect local authorities from the risk of bankruptcy.
Speaking in Holyrood, local government minister Joe Fitzpatrick said Scotland faces “the most challenging budget since devolution”.
He said the UK Government “failed to deliver investment needed for Scotland’s public services”.
The Treasury said the Scottish government will receive £545m in additional funding because of decisions in the UK Autumn Statement spending review.
The SNP minister said decisions on local government budget next year will be confirmed in the Scottish Budget. This will take place on December 19.
On the bankruptcy risk, Mr Fitzpatrick said Scottish councils “haven’t seen the sustained austerity English councils have seen over the last 13 years”.
He added: “We’ve seen a number of local authorities in England which have gone bankrupt.
“Not just Birmingham, not just Nottingham, a number of authorities with leadership of all the main political parties have gone bust because of the austerity of the UK Government.”