Tuesday 23 April 2024
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Politics / Councils not impressed by Scottish budget

THE DRAFT Scottish budget, announced yesterday afternoon, has been described as “bad news” for local authorities, by public services union Unison.

The union said “much more could and should have been done” to protect vital public services.

Finance chiefs will today (Wednesday) continue scrutinising the draft document, which at this early stage is often more political than financial.

It appears to show an increase in funding for internal ferry services in the Northern Isles.

The Scottish Government has also said it will “fully fund” a council tax freeze in 2024/25.

The money coming to councils would be the equivalent of a five per cent rise in tax.

The government said that “combined with the other support being provided to local government this will increase their overall funding by six per cent since the last budget”.

This claim however was rejected by local government umbrella body CoSLA who said the 2024/25 settlement means a cut of £251 million for local government in Scotland, even without the impact of inflation on budgets.

CoSLA said £300m would have been needed to pay for a council tax freeze but only £144m is provided in the draft budget.

Shetland Islands Council said the reality of the data issued by the Scottish Government needs to be better understood as “the devil is often in the detail”.

Councils often only find out later that ‘new’ money is not really new, while new commitments handed to local authorities are not fully funded by central government.

Council leader Emma Macdonald said: “As is always the way it is really difficult to be clear about our budget position at this stage.

“I am attending a COSLA leaders meeting tomorrow morning that will hopefully have more information on local government settlement but initially it looks like a cut to local government funding in real terms.”

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“I don’t underestimate the challenging environment in which the Scottish Government have to set their budget but it is vital that local government services are given the funding they need to help decrease pressure on other areas such as the NHS.

“We don’t yet know our allocation for our ferry funding but we worked very hard to ensure that was fully funded in the previous year and have done the same this year, so we are expecting that to be the case again.”

Unison meanwhile said the Scottish Government could have gone further in supporting public services.

“Our public services are on their knees due to years of underinvestment and the Scottish government’s council tax freeze will be a disaster for local services,” Unison’s Scottish secretary Lilian Macer said.

“We need to see investment in public services and a council tax freeze stops investment in public services, in schools and in the NHS.”

There is also confirmation of a full rates relief for the hospitality sector in the Scottish islands, up to the value of £110,000.

The NHS Shetland budget will rise by around £2 million to £62.4 million.

A total of £434.5 million appears to be allocated for Scotland’s ferry services in 2024/25, with nearly £125 million targeted for vessels and piers.

There appears to be a reduction in the budget for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, from £62.8 million to £54.8 million.

The budget for Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL), which operates Sumburgh Airport, appears to have increased from £69 million to £71.2 million.

Nationally there is a new 45 per cent tax band due to be created for people earning between £75,000 and £125,140.

The Scottish Child Payment will rise to £26.70 from April, up from £25 per week.

Councils will also be given £1.5 million to get rid of school meal debt for pupils.

Elsewhere the government said it will support the “green economy and future jobs by investing £66.9 million to kickstart our commitment of up to £500 million to anchor a new offshore wind supply chain in Scotland”.

The budget for Creative Scotland, which part funds Shetland Arts, looks set to rise after a cut in 2023/24.

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