Local authority education budgets in Scotland are rising and becoming more protected, while other council services bear the brunt of cuts and see their coffers shrink, a new campaign document shows.
Scottish local authorities' body Cosla has today launched a new campaign, warning that restrictive budget rules in areas such as education and social care are taking a heavy toll on "essential" council-run community services and resources, including roads, libraries and sports facilities.
In a new briefing document, Invest in Essential Services, Cosla says: "Ring-fencing, national policy initiatives and protections in education, health and social care continue to grow, creating increasing protection.
"As a result, more and more has to be delivered from an ever decreasing portion of the budget."
The document adds: "Continuing to invest in core education and social care is vital but the whole, inter-related system is important if we are to create truly sustainable communities."
Cosla has today launched a campaign to persuade Scotland's finance secretary, Derek Mackay, "to invest in Scotland’s councils before it is too late".
The pressure of school funding
The new document shows that national policy initiatives have increased between 2013-14 and 2019-20 , and now account for 61 per cent of council budgets. Cosla warns that this means cuts can only be applied to the remaining 39 per cent, with cuts "amplified in services that are not protected". That marks a big change: in 2013-14, only 34 per cent of budgets were "protected", while 66 per cent were unprotected.
The document shows that, in cash terms, councils' education spending rose by 21 per cent between 2013-14 and 2019-20, while there was a 13 per cent rise in spending on social work services.
However, over the same period there were decreases in spending on: roads and transport (down 18 per cent); HR, finance, IT and admin (down 12 per cent); culture and leisure (down 8 per cent); and economic development, planning, and regulatory services (down 6 per cent).
The document also shows that, for 2020-21, there is already £497 million of new Scottish government commitments, which councils will have to deliver in addition to their 2019-20 responsibilities, including:
- Expansion of early learning and childcare (£201 million)
- Teachers’ pensions (£104 million)
- Additional support for learning (£15 million)
- Counselling in schools (£4 million)
Cosla resources spokesperson Gail Macgregor said: "Every year, councils invest in a huge range of services and capital projects that are key drivers for economic growth.
“However, ring-fencing and Scottish government-devised policy initiatives mean that more and more has to be delivered from an ever-decreasing portion of local budgets."
She added: “The reality is that services such as roads, buses, paths, planning, community learning, events, sports facilities, libraries, tourism, business support and environmental health all sit unprotected. These services are what make our communities attractive places to live, work and visit."
Cosla president Alison Evison said: “Local government is the sphere of Government closest to Scotland’s citizens. Sadly however, whichever way you want to dress it up, the reality is that in recent budgets the Scottish government has chosen to overlook the essential services that communities rely on day in day out."
She added: "If we are to truly realise Scotland’s potential, then local authorities must receive a fair settlement.”
A Scottish government spokesperson 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, and are in discussions with Cosla on how we can support their budget process.
“Despite further cuts to the Scottish budget from the UK Government, we have ensured our partners in local government receive a fair funding settlement – delivering a funding package of £11.2 billion for all local authorities in 2019-20, which is a real terms increase of more than £310 million.
“While ring-fenced funding is for increased investment in services such as our schools and nurseries, local authorities have complete autonomy to allocate over 92 per cent – £10.3 billion – of the funding we provide, plus all locally raised income."
The spokesperson added: “Decisions on budget allocations for future years are subject to the outcome of the current negotiations with Cosla. The results will be confirmed as part of the budget in due course.”