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More funding cuts would be ‘disastrous’ for Scotland, councils warn ahead of Budget

Further cuts to council funding would be “disastrous”, the head of Scottish local authorities has said ahead of the Scottish government’s Budget this week.

Speaking ahead of a special council leaders’ meeting due to take place in Edinburgh on Tuesday, David O'Neill, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), urged ministers to preserve local government funding, which he argued was taking more than its “fair share of cuts”.

O’Neill emphasised that cuts in the region of last year’s £349m would negatively impact both communities and services and would not be necessary given that the Scottish government is set to gain £418m from Westminster next year.

“All too often when we talk of cuts to local government these are seen in the abstract. The reality is that we are talking about real cuts to services and jobs,” O’Neill said.

“The simple truth is that a cut to local government means a cut in teaching assistants, a cut in levels of care for all our elderly relatives, cuts for the homeless as a freezing winter starts to bite and cuts to gritting of the roads at a time of freezing temperatures when trains and the wider transport network is struggling to cope.”

He also called for the end to one-year financial settlements, which he argued make it impossible for councils to plan for the long term.

The Scottish government expressed its commitment to negotiating with Cosla and said that local government had been treated fairly, despite central government cuts to the overall Scottish budget.

A government spokesman added: “Local government has experienced the same reduction in funding as was imposed on the Scottish government by Westminster – as outlined in an independent report from Audit Scotland.

“It is therefore clear that local government has been treated very fairly despite the cuts to the Scottish budget from the UK government.”

The Scottish government argued that council finance settlements have been maintained over the period of 2012-16, and that its overall reduction for 2016-17 equates to less than 1% of local government’s total estimate expenditure.

Despite this, a study commissioned by the Scottish Local Government Partnership warned that councils have suffered over £1bn of cuts in the last five years and could be cut by a further £700m by the end of the current Parliament.

Last month, Scotland’s spending watchdog the Accounts Commission found that Scotland's councils were in good health last year, but face "a bleak future" managing their finances in the years to come. The report warned that councils must change the way they work and have long-term financial strategies in place if they are to make the savings needed.

The Scottish Government is due to announce the local government revenue settlement funding for councils on Thursday along with the Budget.

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