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Core council spending ‘taken a hit’ from ‘smoke and mirrors’ Scottish Budget, but Brexit may force changes

Finance secretary Derek Mackay has unveiled a series of cash injections for Scotland’s public services, with preparations for Brexit at the heart of the government’s spending plans.

Mackay yesterday revealed the Budget proposals to MSPs, which includes an increase of £730m in health and care services (which he claims equates to £500m in real terms), £180m for raising attainment in schools, and £5bn of capital investment to modernise infrastructure.

There was also a real-terms increase in financial support for local government through a £11.1bn settlement, after councils issued a budget warning to the Scottish Government last month saying they had “no options left.”

However, the budget was met by disappointment by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), which said the value of essential service provided by local government “has not been recognised by the Scottish Government.”

COSLA’s resources spokesperson, Cllr Gail Macgregor, explained: “There is always smoke and mirrors around how those at the centre present their budget. The one message that the Scottish people need to take from today’s budget is that the local government’s core budget which provides our essential services has taken a hit.

“The essential services that local government deliver are the foundations on which Scotland is built – today’s announcement means that these foundations are under severe pressure.”

Also announced in the Budget was a public-sector pay deal that provides an above-inflation uplift of 3% for those earning up to £36,500, a direct investment of £27m for mental health, £500m for early learning and childcare (including the refurbishment and extensions of 750 nurseries and family centres), and £825m towards the delivery of 50,000 affordable homes.

However, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union criticised the public sector pay deal as being below inflation. PCS national officer Lynn Henderson said: “Three per cent this year just isn’t good enough, it’s below inflation and therefore, it’s a pay cut.”

Regarding the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, Mackay said the spending plans “include a commitment to mitigate the risks of Brexit as best we can, to enable our economy to thrive in any circumstances, now and in the future.”

He noted that if Brexit can be avoided, the resources currently being directed towards “essential preparations” can be reinvested into public services, adding that he “may be required to revisit the priorities” of the Budget if there is a no deal Brexit.

Top image: Jane Barlow via PA Images 


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