The Cabinet Secretary for Finance Derek Mackay says he has delivered a “good deal” for Scottish councils in the local government budget settlement. Well that’s a relief! Or it would be if it was true.
Lots of numbers are bandied about in relation to the local government budget. I dealt with the most common confusion over a ‘real terms’ increase in a previous blog post. So, let’s try and decipher what’s going on in local government.
Let’s start with the trends over recent years. Looking at the comparable, post police and fire transfer, years between 2013-14 and 2017-18, the local government revenue budget fell by 6.9%, whereas the Scottish government Revenue Budget fell by only 1.6%. This chart shows the trend in detail:
The most damming statistic relates to jobs. If local government has had such a ‘good deal’ then why are nine out of ten austerity job losses in councils?
For the coming year the allocation of £9.63 billion is a “flat cash” settlement, but it isn’t a like for like comparison with the previous year. Next year’s funding includes new Scottish Government policy commitments such as starting to implement the expansion of Early Years and Childcare and ring fencing teachers’ pay and classroom ratios. These add up to a total of £153 million and once they are deducted from the “flat cash” settlement, there is a cut of £153 million for core local government services.
This table shows how this is calculated.
Even if every council raised the Council Tax by 3%, it only raises £77m. Certainly not enough to plug this gap. The finance minister’s claim that this would deliver a real terms increase, does not stack up.
We focus on revenue because that’s what pays for core services and of course pay. SPICe has estimated that, if local authorities were to match the Scottish Government's pay policy, this would cost around £150m (gross) in 2018-19. I think this is a little on the low side, but it’s difficult to be precise because of poor workforce data. In fairness, in real terms councils have 1% factored in for pay, so the gap is around £90m.
We should also remember that because of the allocation formula the pain is not equally spread across councils. This chart shows the variations.
The bottom line is that the finance minister has been told to protect half the budget. That means that the other half takes a disproportionate hit. Most of that is local government, so however you try and spin it, councils are not getting a ‘good deal’.