The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is putting a brave face on City of Glasgow Council's decision to walk out of the group. Glasgow's angry reaction to the Scottish Executive's funding announcement for the next three years has left some senior COSLA figures quietly muttering that the association will be better off without the distracting influence of the big city whingers.
Leading Glasgow councillors say its£300,000 affiliation fees would be better spent on services for autistic children. The council says it has been left woefully underfunded following the announcement of the three-year spending settlement by local government minister Angus MacKay (LGC, 15 December 2000).
The council is furious at a perceived lack of support from COSLA in its campaign to see central government support for local government distributed through a deprivation-based funding formula.
Glasgow claims it will have to cut£12m from draft budget plans for next year which involve a total spend of around£1.9bn. The council had hoped to keep its council tax increase below 2%. It now looks as though it will be nearer 4%.
Leader Charles Gordon said: 'By looking at areas where we hoped to get some service growth and where we had budget pressures on existing services, we have trimmed£8m. The remainder may have an impact on council tax. The Labour executive concluded the COSLA affiliation of some£300,000 would be better spent with special education. This was not a decision taken lightly and it was only done after we had received advice from chief officers that there would be no disadvantage to the delivery of services in the city by pulling out of COSLA.'
The impact on COSLA's£2.5m budget could be far worse. Glasgow pays the highest affiliation fee and it said it had been expecting to be asked to pay an extra sixty or seventy thousand next year. The council has paid its fees until March.
A COSLA spokesman said: 'We run a very tight ship and rumours of a£500,000 overspend are completely unfounded. However, in the light of anticipated budgetary pressures in the next financial year, we could well face some difficult financial decisions on top of those we have already taken in this financial year.'
Glasgow councillors are already quitting their roles as COSLA spokespeople, something that could have implications for the deadlocked pay negotiations. The chairman of the Scottish Joint Committee, representing the employers' side, Jimmy Mutter, is from Glasgow and his resignation could prove disastrous for COSLA.
The row centres around a statement made in parliament by Mr MacKay, in which he said: 'The existing distribution system for revenue grant has been developed over many years through detailed consultation between central and local government. We agreed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that it was right to anchor the new arrangements to the existing formula.'
This, says Glasgow, suggests the formula was agreed with COSLA earlier in the year. The council lobbied the convention to have a block and formula system used, which takes deprivation into account. Council leaders from across Scotland agreed by 16 to nine to back this formula. A Glasgow spokesman said COSLA did not follow this vote up.
COSLA denies this. President Norman Murray has angered Glasgow further by suggesting the convention will even be made stronger by its absence. He said:
'While their decision to withdraw is disappointing, it has to be remembered that Glasgow is but one of 32 councils in Scotland.' He added that the decision to resign 'may in the long run make COSLA even stronger'.
A spokesman added: 'At least we now know where we stand. If Glasgow had held on for another year, it would have seen improvements at COSLA.'