The draft Scottish Government budget brought forward by Finance Secretary Derek Mackay at the end of the year will be scrutinised and debated in parliament in the coming weeks.
The problem for many watching this process will be trying to determine who is actually telling the truth when it comes to what the budget actually means for local people and local communities. There will be spin and counter spin, all of which does no service to making Scottish politics better for our democracy. As one lady said to me on a doorstep in Kennoway last month; “You are all the same and you can believe a word any of you say”.
It is pretty dire that politics and politicians are held in such low esteem given the importance of politics to try and address the big issues facing our democracy as well as democracies across the world.
One area of the brief I hold within the Scottish Labour Party is that of local government and here it is no different, with the SNP government claiming that local councils are getting a good deal, even an increase in their budget as we saw Mr Mackay claim in Parliament and yet Councils say it is a cut and they will have to cut even deeper into local services.
In a question to Mr Mackay I quoted the leader of Edinburgh Council who wrote that the budget deal for that council “was the worst revenue settlement since devolution” and he went on to say: “Rarely in my 18 years as a Local Councillor have I seen so much spin and manipulation of figures….”
Now, Mr Mackay simply dismisses what the Leader of Edinburgh Council says as not being true because he is a ‘Labour Leader’ but really is this acceptable and should we not expect a Government Minister to answer in a more honest way? The fact is the amount coming from the Scottish Government to Edinburgh Council in revenue has been reduced by £37 million and yet Mr Mackay has no hesitation to dismiss this fact in our nation’s parliament as being not true.
Is the main reason he gets away with this down to the fact that the country is so divided and the flag waving SNP have been successful in diluting all politics into constitutional politics so there is no longer any detailed analysis of budgets, the big issues and challenges of everyday life and indeed the performance of the SNP government over the last ten years?
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has set out their detailed analysis of the deal on the table for local councils and they are clear that there is a real £350 million of cuts taking place from the Scottish Government grant to local council budgets.
The SNP government have tried to disguise this by showing the following funding increases.
They have put in £120 million of national money directed to head teachers in schools where there is the greatest poverty to improve the attainment gap. (While welcome, this is not enough to tackle the big issues in education but the key point is that it is not part of the council grant allocation for councils to spend.)
They have also included the £111 million that will be raised through changes to the council tax bands. (This is money raised through council tax changes so local taxation and not part of the government grant.)
They have also included a potential £70 million if councils put up the council tax by 3% across the board. (Again this is taxes raised locally and not government grant.)
They have built in an additional £107 million in NHS budgets for health and social care to pay for the living wage in social care (£100m) and funding to disregard the value of war pensions from financial assessments of social care (£7m). (This is not therefore monies allocated to councils through the revenue grant.)
They also have come up with a notional figure for capital re-profiling by councils of £150m. (This is not real cash)
So none of the above are a direct increase to local council’s revenue grant from the Scottish Government, but the Scottish Government add all these together to make their claim that local councils have had an overall increase in funding and Mr MacKay makes the statements like the one above and in the meantime people and communities, accessing services like a care package, support with fostering or caring for a youngster, housing, transport, youth services, road repairs, class room assistants, meals on wheels and so many more struggle to get the services they need.
And so we will see more cuts and more jobs lost putting even greater pressure on the services and staff that are left to meet the increasing demands placed upon them.