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Strain on councils set to continue

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison: 'the pressures are continuing'. Photo: Shetland News

LOCAL authorities including Shetland Islands Council will be forced to do more with less money as austerity is set continue for many more years, according to a new Audit Scotland report.

Newly appointed SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison endorsed the Challenges and Performance 2018 report on the challenges of local government, which was published today (Thursday).

In it auditors say that finding savings has become “increasingly critical” as councils struggle to balance significant real term funding cuts with increased demand particularly from an growing older population.

While the average funding cuts across all 32 local authorities in Scotland was 9.6 per cent in real terms over the last eight years, the SIC suffered a cut of 18 per cent.

In addition, the isles are facing further challenges such as a population that is ageing more quickly than in other parts of Scotland, coupled with the well documented difficulties in retaining and recruiting staff particularly in the health and care sectors.

Sandison said the SIC is currently spending an extra £770 per person from its own resources to balance the books and keep delivering services at a level that is one of the best in Scotland.

“We know that Shetland has some of the best outcomes in Scotland; we have high life expectancy, services are good quality, and we have good community strength and resilience,” she said.

“The Audit Scotland report itself recommends reviewing services and looking at priority outcomes, and that is exactly the process which we have to go through – trying to make sure that the money is making the biggest impact.

“The council is currently funding £770 per person in addition to what the government and council tax gives us. That is an indication that we have managed to continue to support the needs of our community by continuing to invest our own money into delivery services.

“Clearly, the pressures are continuing and we expect this to go on for many more years in terms of increasing costs and increasing demands and reduced funding.”

Chairman of the Audit Commission Graham Sharp said councils had to operate in a time of increasing uncertainty.

“They have done a lot to manage the impact of budget reductions, but with forecast funding gaps higher than current levels of reserves for some councils the delivery of savings is now increasingly critical,” he said.

“Decisive leadership, innovative thinking around service delivery, and robust planning based on community engagement is now more important than ever to ensure council services stay sustainable.”

Responding to the Audit Scotland report, finance secretary Derek Mackay said reduction in local government funding was at the same level as the real terms cuts to Scotland’s resource budget from the UK Government.

“Despite these cuts to the Scottish Government’s budget we have treated local government fairly and in 2018-19, councils will receive a £10.7 billion funding settlement, providing a real terms boost spending,” he said.

“In addition we are investing £750 million over the course of this Parliament to tackle the poverty related attainment gap and ensure every child in Scotland has an equal chance to succeed.

“In the current financial year almost half a billion pounds of frontline NHS spending will be invested in social care services and integration.”

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