The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has urged Holyrood to give more powers to local councils to set taxes. It also asks to remove the cap for the rate of council tax which councils can set – this currently sits at three percent.
The demands are part of a new Blueprint for Local Government document launched by COSLA today.
The organisation highlighted the role of local authorities in response to the coronavirus pandemic and warned without “proper resourcing” cuts to council services are inevitable, risking the country’s recovery from the virus.
It also calls for a commitment to “fair funding” including funding for health and social care which “accounts for our new financial realities” and reversing ring-fencing of cash for children’s services and education.
COSLA said £500m of additional funding would be needed to help prop up Scottish councils as authorities warn they face “devastating” financial black holes.
The blueprint document added the lack of funding has “immediate and long-term implications for Local Government’s ability to both manage the financial impacts of COVID-19 and continue to deliver essential services.”
“That is why fair funding for Local Government must be a central priority for Scotland,” it added.
Councillor Graham Houston, Vice President of COSLA, said: “Scottish local government must be further empowered to bring about the change we now need.
“The financial impacts of COVID-19 have been severe and have placed extreme pressure on already strained council budgets and on our workforce.
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“Council tax legislation…should be amended to allow a financial deficit, attributed to COVID-19, to be repaid over a period of time significantly in excess of one year,” it added.
Government figures also suggested Scottish Councils had suffered a decade of underfunding with as much as £898.8m cut from non-ring fenced revenue budgets in real terms since 2013/2014 alone.
Scottish Labour local government spokesperson Sarah Boyack said the Scottish Government should open cross-party talks on how to empower Scotland’s councils with “immediate effect”.
The MSP said: “The reality is that we’ve seen the damaging impact of increasing centralisation and underfunding of local government by the Scottish Government during the SNP’s time in power.
“Local government needs to be empowered not micro-managed.
“The Blueprint presented by COSLA offers the chance for a cross-party agreement that our councils need to be empowered with fair funding, long term certainty and more powers to make the decisions our communities need.
“It is time for the SNP to enter into dialogue with COSLA and other parties to ensure that the micro-managing and cuts to councils end.”
In response to the concerns, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have taken exceptional measures in every area of government as we deal with the challenges of COVID-19 and that is particularly clear in our support for local services.
“To date, the Scottish Government has committed £379 million of additional funding to local government for COVID-19 measures, on top of the local government finance settlement of £11.4 billion from this year’s budget.”
She said the government will continue to work with COSLA and councils, as well as pressing the UK Government for additional funding.
She added: “Both the level and the distribution of funding to local authorities is the subject of continuous discussion between the Scottish Government and COSLA.
“Local authorities are autonomous bodies, and it is the responsibility of individual councils to manage their own budgets and to allocate the total financial resources available to them on the basis of local needs and priorities, having first fulfilled their statutory obligations and the jointly agreed set of national and local priorities.”