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Council / Late budget puts council services at risk

THE government has been accused of putting essential public services at risk after it emerged that the UK’s first post Brexit budget will only be published on 11 March.

Photo: Pixabay.

This late date means there is no clarity on the funding available for the Scottish budget, and, as a consequence of that, local authorities will be very late in setting their budgets for the 2020/21 financial year.

CoSLA, the umbrella organisation representing Scotland’s 32 local authorities, has now warned of the risk facing councils, including Shetland Islands Council.

SIC leader Steven Coutts said on Tuesday that the council was fully supportive of CoSLA’s call. “We need to ensure that all is done to ensure a timely budget is produced.”

He added: “The budget that is ultimately produced also crucially needs to provide a level of funding to ensure key services in Shetland can be sustainably delivered.”

SIC political leader Steven Coutts.SIC leader Steven Coutts. Photo: Shetland News

In a scathing attack on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, CoSLA’s spokesperson for resources, councillor Gail Macgregor said the late budget was putting Scotland’s communities at a disadvantage.

“By delaying the UK budget until mid-March, the UK Government is putting thousands of essential public services at risk of going without funding. COSLA is calling for the Scottish Government to do all it can to mitigate this risk,” she said.

“The UK Government’s decision runs the risk of delaying the Scottish Government’s budget. This significantly impedes the ability for local authorities to formulate their own budgets meaning Scotland’s communities are disadvantaged.

“COSLA is calling on the UK Government to provide Scotland with an increased settlement so that the Scottish Government can provide councils with enough funding to deliver the vital services that our communities rely on.”

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, finance secretary Derek Mackay said he has had no prior warning of the late date despite repeated calls for clarity on the budget date.

“The UK Government’s approach to the Scottish budget is completely unacceptable – the delay of over four months since their original planned date cannot be blamed on the general election, and suggests a disregard for devolution and a lack of fiscal responsibility,” he said.

“The failure of the UK Government to publish its budget at an earlier time means we do not have clarity on the funding available for our schools, hospitals and other vital public services.

“Despite this, we remain focused on introducing a Scottish budget for 2020-21 at the earliest practical opportunity.”

In a press statement published on Tuesday morning the UK Treasury said the budget would prioritise the environment, and build on recent announcements to boost spending on public services and tackle the cost of living.

These include investing in new hospitals, training thousands of new police officers, funding vocational education and the biggest ever cash increase to the National Living Wage.

The Chancellor said: “With this budget we will unleash Britain’s potential – uniting our great country, opening a new chapter for our economy and ushering in a decade of renewal.”