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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Council Budgets

Councils across Scotland are setting their budgets in the context of a 6% cut in the allocation from the Scottish Government. That resulted in a loss of 13,300 jobs last year and we can expect a similar number this year. That will have a further devastating impact on local economies as that spending power is stripped away.

As it is an election year councils are shying away from big unpopular service cuts. It is the workforce through the pay freeze that are making the largest contribution to spending reductions. Most services will be salami sliced in an effort to spread the pain and hope that not too many people notice the decline in services and standards.

Of course councils would normally have the option of considering the appropriate level of Council Tax to fund local priorities. But in Scotland today councils are reduced to administrative machines instructed to carry out the Scottish Government's priorities. Freeze the Council tax and accept our priorities, or you get another 5.4% chopped from your budget. It's not as if the priorities are even sensible. The fiction of 1000 extra police officers 'on the streets' is maintained by sacking huge numbers of police staff and taking police officers 'off the streets' to do their jobs, often badly and at greater cost.

Local democracy is important. We should have local government - not local administration. This week I attended another excellent Nordic Horizons event in Parliament discussing Scandinavian approaches to local government. There they have real local democracy with councils of a size to represent real communities and taxation powers to match. Councils that know what municipal enterprise is really about. While our reform agenda centralises power and thinks the only form of efficiency is economy of scale.

This week UNISON Scotland has set out a better way in our manifesto for local government. Reform that starts from the bottom up with services designed by staff and service users, not management consultants. Devolution, not just from Westminster, but away from Holyrood to local communities. Integrating services, not devising tax dodging mechanisms that will return local services to the chaos of the 19th Century. A revitalised local government that plays a crucial role in reducing inequality to help create the fairer and better Scotland we want to live in.

Every day we all use the services provided by local government. Many people don’t even notice them as we take them for granted. The council elections on 3 May will bring a much needed focus on the importance of local government and the essential services it provides. And not a moment too soon!

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