Each year local authorities across Scotland set a budget to maintain and develop services for their communities.
Whilst funding comes from a range of sources, including local taxation and non-domestic rates, by far the largest part is received from the SNP Government.
On 15 December 2016, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP published a proposed Scottish budget for 2017-2018, outlining the Government's key national priorities, including local government funding. As a member of the Scottish Parliament's cross-party Local Government and Communities Committee, it is part of my job to help to scrutinise the Cabinet Secretary’s proposed budget and take evidence from those likely to be affected by the settlement. Our report will be published on the Scottish Parliament website this coming weekend.
As a nation we live in straitened times, with the annual block grant from Westminster to Scotland steadily declining each year as a result of the UK Government's damaging austerity policies. Despite this, the SNP Government continues to protect key services, with no compulsory redundancies in the public sector and mitigating some of the most damaging UK welfare policies, such as the Bedroom Tax, whilst building for the future, through investing record amounts in our NHS and construction of new housing, schools, harbours etc; Amidst tight funding constraints, the SNP Government has again produced a fair, if challenging settlement for 2017-2018.
In his proposed budget, Mr Mackay set local council authority funding at £10,545 million, an increase of £244.729 million, 2.38%, on the previous year. This includes £120 million from the SNP Government to help tackle the attainment gap within our school system, and an additional £107 million to further integrate our health and social services; measures warmly welcomed by the Local Government and Communities Committee.
The proposed budget increase for North Ayrshire Council is considerably higher than for any other Scottish local authority; an additional £22.52 million (8.06%) more than 2016-2017. Capital funding, to help maintain and develop local infrastructure, will increase by a whopping 162%, from £12.108 million last year to £31.731 million in 2017-2018.
North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership will receive an extra £2,925,000 to ensure that more people can be cared for safely in their own homes, rather than hospital, whilst social care workers will now be paid at least the Scottish living wage of £8.45 per hour, £1.25 per hour more than in the rest of the UK.
After a nine year council tax freeze, new measures allowing councils to raise more revenue by a maximum 3% are expected to raise an additional £70 million. The SNP Manifesto commitment to reform council tax to make it more progressive by increasing it across bands E-H while cutting it for the poorest households, will see a further £111 million raised and going directly to councils to spend on local priorities.
Incidentally, after the freeze, Band D council tax - the average measurement across the UK - is £1,152 per year in North Ayrshire, similar to the Scottish average of £1,169. In England, where council tax has risen steadily under Labour, the Coalition and Tories over the last decade, the Band D average is £1,530.
With a much better settlement than anyone anticipated a few weeks ago, the recent posturing of the Labour administration at North Ayrshire Council in threatening not to 'accept or reject' it seems bizarre. I look forward to seeing common sense prevailing and the budget accepted and implemented. After all, if Labour was concerned about North Ayrshire’s funding they would not have proposed a new funding formula that would take £5.081 million from North Ayrshire each year to be reallocated to Glasgow!