We’ve heard it before and we will hear it again in the coming weeks. During today’s budget debate Finance Secretary John Swinney repeated his claim that the Scottish Government is properly funding local government.
If this was the case then why did Edinburgh Council recently announce that it has to make £85m of savings in the year ahead? And why is it planning to shed 2,000 jobs – the single biggest job loss in the council’s history?
The reality is that the council’s finances have been pushed beyond breaking point due to a combination of year-on-year-cuts from the Scottish Government, an underfunded council tax freeze and increasing demand on public services. So childcare, schools, social care and a raft of services that people rely on are being cut back.
Compared to other local authorities Edinburgh’s finances have been hit particularly hard. An independent analysis published by the Scottish Parliament’s research centre recently revealed the uneven burden placed on the capital when compared with most other parts of Scotland. In real terms Scottish Government funding of councils has dropped by 7%, whereas it has been slashed by 13% per person in Edinburgh since the SNP took power in 2007.
No one forced the SNP to pass their latest round of austerity cuts on to local communities. There was an alternative – Scottish Labour’s Plan to raise income tax which independent experts have confirmed will protect our vital public services and with our £100 rebate protect those with incomes of less than £20,000. Instead the SNP Government has chosen George Osborne’s Tory austerity cuts and voted our proposal down.
As a result, the price will be paid by people who rely on council services. Today’s demonstration saw Councillors and trade union reps from across Scotland call for the SNP to use the powers they have to stop these damaging cuts which will hit the most vulnerable in our communities. It will also negatively impact on children and young people’s education – and our country’s future.
The Finance Secretary should have listened to Sandy Howatt the SNP’s group leader in Edinburgh who had the following to say in relation to the Scottish Government’s local government settlement:
“A revenue cut of this scale would be very damaging for jobs and services within Scottish local government generally, and here in Edinburgh specifically – the harsh reality is that this will translate to real job cuts that hit real families, in real communities throughout our capital city. Everyone will be hurt by this”