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Councils say it's the best news in a decade

Neil Munro asks whether the budget boost means ministers can afford to implement the McCrone report.

THE ability of the local authorities to meet their share of the post-McCrone outcome has been enhanced with the breathing space provided by an additional pound;1.2 billion for all council services over the next three years.

The extra funding will include "an element of support" for cost-of-living pay increases (the first central government subvention for seven years). Jack McConnell said this represented real increases of 10.5 per cent in resources for councils.

Pat Watters, vice-president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, described the settlement as "the best news it has had in a decade", although the gloss was somewhat removed on the same day by the second 24-hour strike by Unison's local government members protestingat their 2.5 per cent pay offer.

The local government settlement includes a 57 per cent rise in direct support for overall capital investment by councils, which is planned to rise from pound;366.8m to pound;618.7m by 2003-04. Mr McConnell said he expected investment in school buildings and other local facilities to be "significantly improved".

These sums appear to be additional to new support for councils to enter public private partnerships (PPPs) to build schools and other amenities, about which details will follow soon. This is expected to be pound;6.9 billion in total, largely for health and education.

The Executive, facing a backlog in essential repairs and maintenance estimated by Cosla at pound;1.3 billion, has already given 10 education authorities support to go ahead with school PPP schemes with a capital value of pound;500 million.

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