Convention of Scottish Local Authorities president Rosemary McKenna, speaking on behalf of unitary leaders after they met together at the end of Cosla's personnel conference, said that 1996-97 promises to be the most difficult year yet for local government.
She said: 'There are a number of serious difficulties facing us which, without a major re-think by the secretary of state for Scotland, will inevitably lead to a diminution of service.
'New councils will be starting their spending programmes with nothing - indeed some will inherit deficits from the regional and district councils. Over the years they have done marvellous job in maintaining services and keeping council tax to a reasonable level, but it looks extremely unlikely that the new councils will be able to maintain this.'
'This is the third year in a row councils have been told this,' said cllr McKenna, 'and Cosla has estimated that next year alone councils will have to find £70m to meet pay awards, bringing the total cost over the three years to £216m. Unions have agreed below inflation awards over the past two years and we must expect them to seek to redress that this year.
'Local government cannot go on making efficiency savings for ever and it is unlikely that any council will find it possible to make any such savings without impinging on quality of service, cutting jobs or increasing council tax.
'Because of the government's stated intention to reduce grant support, we are already looking at an 8% council tax rise and other factors including the savings which the government expect from reorganisation - savings which we believe are non-existent - mean that increases will be higher.'
But she pledged that council leaders would do all they could to maintain the high levels of service which there predecessors have established.
'Local government has a proud tradition in Scotland - we are dedicated to maintaining that in future.'