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Scottish councils warn of 'extremely difficult time ahead'

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Local authorities in Scotland are facing an “extremely difficult time ahead”, according to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

In its annual financial overview, published today, the Accounts Commission, the local authority spending watchdog, said the 32 councils in Scotland face a complex range of challenges and continuing pressure on finances.

LGC revealed last week how the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales had increased core funding for councils, in absolute terms, by 3% and 8% and respectively since 2010. This is compared to a 26% cut for English councils over the same period.

The research also showed how the amount of per capita funding made available to councils in Scotland and Wales had increased by 0.2% and 5.2% respectively in absolute terms since 2010-11, while England had witnessed a 29.8% reduction in the last eight years.

The Accounts Commission found funding for councils from the Scottish Government reduced by 2.3% in real terms in 2017-18. It said this reduction was largely offset by increases in council tax and councils’ fee income, with most councils applying the maximum 3% increase to council tax.

Graham Sharp, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “Councils did a good job last year in managing resources as budgets are tightened and demands on them rise.

“The position varies from council to council but there is clearly need for continuing change in the way services are provided. It’s not been easy but the pressure on them - and the key services we all rely on - shows no signs of easing.”

Responding, COSLA’s resources spokeswoman Gail Macgregor (Con) said: “Today’s Accounts Commission report clearly recognises that councils have managed budgets well over the last year despite the challenges but that we face an extremely difficult time ahead.

“The Accounts Commission is correct to flag up the range of complex challenges we face and the continuing pressure on our finances.”

She said COSLA had “strongly lobbied the Scottish Government for a fair settlement for the essential services councils deliver”.

“We hope that the Scottish Government listens to the stark warning contained within today’s report from the independent Accounts Commission and funds local government and the essential services councils provide in their budget on 12 December,” said Cllr Macgregor.

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