Opposition councillors in South Lanarkshire have been left “bitterly disappointed” by the Scottish Government’s proposed budget.
At Holyrood last Thursday, finance secretary Kate Forbes outlined spending she said would drive economic recovery and support families.
However, Labour group leader Councillor Joe Fagan (East Kilbride Central North) and Lib Dem group leader Councillor Robert Brown (Rutherglen South) have criticised the budget, claiming it will “hamstring local councils” and that it “doesn’t even come close” to meeting their needs.
Job creation was mentioned as a priority by the finance secretary with support totalling £1.1 billion including a commitment to launch a new Green Workforce Academy and making Scotland a world class hub for digital business.
Health services will see a 5.3 per cent increase in funding and public sector workers earning less than £25,000 set to receive a three per cent pay increase.
Ms Forbes also proposed £11.6 billion for local government, which represents a £335.6 million increase in core revenue funding split between Scotland’s 32 local authorities. That includes £90 million to compensate local authorities which choose to freeze council tax plus £259 million in one-off funding.
However, that increase still falls below what local government body Cosla had been looking for after councils were forced to make budget cuts in recent years.
Funding for the Scottish budget from Westminster has increased this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and Cllr Brown felt that wasn’t being passed on to councils.
He said: “The budget is going to hamstring local councils yet again. It proves inadequate support and links it to a council tax freeze which only reduces the money available for vital local services.
“The Scottish Government had the biggest funding boost in years but they are still moaning about London – and they still won’t pass on enough finance to support local services properly.
“We need to put recovery first. Our health service, education and economy need a needle sharp focus to ensure that they recover from the pandemic, yet the SNP Government’s budget has no plan to help the Scottish economy recover.
“Sadly the SNP Government’s budget is also largely silent on getting our education system back to being the best of the world, or providing support for teachers.”
Cllr Fagan added: “This budget doesn’t meet the needs of local government. It doesn’t even come close. Anyone looking for a reprieve from cuts to frontline jobs and essential services will be bitterly disappointed.
“The silence from SNP council leaders is pathetic. How can we trust them to stand up for Scotland if they won’t even up stand for themselves? We need to unite as a community and demand better.
“We have to say clearly to the Scottish Government that it’s time they delivered a fair funding settlement for councils and communities – no ifs, no buts, no excuses.
“You either fund local services fairly or you accept your share of the responsibility for the appalling consequences of the cuts that will now have to be made.”
Council Leader John Ross said: “I welcome the Scottish budget and the settlement for local government, which is a significant improvement on what many people were anticipating. The Scottish Government clearly recognises the challenges that people across Scotland, our public services and businesses have been facing and are likely to continue to face in the months and years ahead, and the important role that councils will have in meeting those challenges.
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“We now have our own settlement figure and we therefore know that South Lanarkshire Council will receive additional funding this year, with some additional commitments also handed to us. Council officers are now working to update the budget plans and savings options that had already been presented to elected members, and these will be central to the discussions as we continue with the cross-party budget talks we have been having.
“All but one political group on the council is taking part in those talks and I look forward to continuing to work with those other political groups to deliver the best budget possible for our local residents, communities and businesses. The Cabinet Secretary’s offer on helping to fund a council tax freeze is also to be welcomed and I look forward to including that in our considerations. We are an open and transparent council who value the views of our local residents, and I would urge everyone to take part in our public consultation on the budget.”
Addressing MSPs last week, Ms Forbes 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, and as we face the harmful impacts of Brexit. It promotes innovation and reform, new beginnings, new directions. And while it continues to target support in the immediate term, it also tracks a course over the next year to build a fairer, stronger and greener country.
“To help drive our green economic recovery I am providing the stability and certainty that businesses have asked for through the most competitive reliefs packages in the UK.”
She added; “Throughout these dark times we have never given up hope. This budget seeks to build on that hope and, by focusing on how we rebuild and renew our country, make the light at the end of the tunnel shine that bit brighter.”
-- to www.dailyrecord.co.uk