Council Tax set to rise as Comhairle budget is set

The Comhairle has issued figures showing a cut in its funding for the coming year equal to £2.33m, after last week's draft Scottish Budget statement in Holyrood.

The settlement remains broadly in-line with the Comhairle’s expectations, and a budgetted Council Tax increase of three per-cent now looks certain to go ahead.

The Comhairle’s figures show a reduction of £317k in the headline settlement, with the Comhairle receiving £95.399m in 2019/2020 against last year’s sum of £95.716m.

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This Comhairle claims that year’s settlement includes ring-fenced sums of £698k for Health and Social Care, and £1.217m for expansions in early years / childcare services, leaving a hole in its budget totalling £2.332m after the ring-fenced elements have been taken into account.

Speaking last week as the outline Budget figures became known, Comhairle Leader, Councillor Roddie MacKay said: “The Budget that has been announced seems to be what we were expecting. It is disappointing that there is not more capital, and it is disappointing that there is not an increase in terms of revenue. There are different increases but they are ring-fenced.

“So no shocks for us, and we will continue working the way we are working.”

The Comhairle has already embarked on a ‘Service Redesign’ process aimed, according to its own statements, at improving local services and protecting against service cuts whilst trying to identify savings ahead of the budget announcements.

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Comhairle estimates show that the authority is facing a £10m cut in funding over the next four years.

Meanwhile, disputes between local and national government over whether local government budgets are increasing or decreasing have resurfaced following the government’s announcements.

Responding to the Scottish Government’s draft budget, Western Isles MSP, Dr Alasdair Allan, claimed that the budget contained an increase for local government, stating: “A decade of Tory austerity has squeezed all public spending. However, despite continued cuts to Scotland’s resource budget by the UK Government every local authority in Scotland, including Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has seen their funding increase in this year’s Scottish budget.”

The Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary, Derek MacKay MSP issued a statement claiming: “After removing the health uplift the Scottish Government fiscal resource block grant funding goes down by £340 million or 1.3% in real terms for 2019-20. Despite that reduction, we have still provided a 2% real terms uplift in the total Local Government settlement for 2019-20.

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“If local authorities choose to use their powers to increase Council Tax by up to 3% they can generate up to an additional £80 million to support the delivery of essential local services.”

The Finance Secretary’s statements claimed that the 2019/2020 Scottish Budget provides local authorities with a real-terms increase in overall funding of over £210 million with increase in both the revenue and capital settlements.

But COSLA, the organisation representing Scotland’s local authorities, has warned that the budget could result in substantial job losses across Scotland.

COSLA’s Resources Spokesperson, Councillor Gail Macgregor, said: “This is not good news for Scottish Local Government and without a rethink from Scottish Government or a Parliamentary intervention it puts at risk the delivery of essential services in the coming year.

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“The circular announcing individual Council budgets allows us to see the real impact of the £237 million pound cut on the ground, and there can be no hiding from the fact that budgets at the local level, in local communities, have gone down substantially.

“If this settlement is not changed it will mean substantial job losses in places where Local Government is the main employer.

“Scottish Government need to look at the bigger picture and really start to think again about the economic impact of such a challenging settlement for Scottish Local Government.”