Yet another “pass the buck” budget
I recently contributed an article to STV Airdrie on the damaging impact Finance Secretary John Swinney’s local government settlement will have on people and communities across North Lanarkshire.
As I explain below, it is yet another “pass the buck” budget from an SNP Government that refuses to take the tough decisions, but forces local councils to make them instead:
We rely on local authorities to provide a vast array of services, from running our schools, maintaining our roads, and caring for the young, sick, disabled and elderly, to collecting the garbage and cutting the grass.
All these services cost money.
One way for local authorities to raise money is through the Council Tax, currently frozen at the behest of the Scottish Government. It will remain frozen until 2016.
The majority of funding, however, comes direct from the Scottish Government; and it is because of the Scottish Government’s decision to significantly reduce that funding that North Lanarkshire Council is being forced to slash spending by £73m over the next four years.
In publishing a comprehensive savings package for public consultation, North Lanarkshire Council has already identified some of services that may be reduced, or lost altogether, and given local people the opportunity to have their say.
But why does so much money have to be saved in the first place?
To a degree, it is because of the ConDem Government and Chancellor George Osborne’s obsessive attacks on the public sector.
However, let us be clear about the role played by the Scottish Government.
The SNP has complained bitterly about the reduction to the block grant it receives from Westminster. However, it fails to point out that its budget settlement looks rather good when compared to the budget it has imposed upon Scottish local authorities.
The Scottish budget has been reduced by around 2.2% over the next three years. Over the same period, the Scottish Government has decreased local authority budgets by 5.7%.
Put simply, Finance Secretary John Swinney has taken the cut from Westminster, doubled it, and passed it on to local authorities.
That is why North Lanarkshire Council is being forced to save £73m over the next 4 years.
Now, I don’t always agree with the decisions taken by North Lanarkshire Council. Only recently I publicly criticized the council’s rejection of a proposal to build a new supermarket in Motherwell.
However, in this instance, the council has been placed in an impossible position.
This Scottish Government is expert in passing the buck. The SNP don’t want to make the tough decisions; they don’t want to choose between schools and care homes, jobs and services, cutting the grass or cutting the deficit.
Instead, they are forcing local authorities to make those decisions for them. This will hurt. Hundreds of jobs may be lost. Services will be cut. Local schools may be merged. Communities will be damaged.
Airdrie and Shotts MSP Alex Neil has already blamed Westminster. When he finished blaming Westminster, he started blamed Labour councillors. Who he will never blame, is the Scottish Government.
Yet that is where the blame really lies. Alex Neil and his Scottish Government colleagues were democratically elected and have a mandate to govern. With this comes a duty to govern responsibly.
I was recently asked by a school pupil whether reducing the government grant to local authorities would mean that some services would have to be cut.
I gave the honest answer: yes. The money pays for local services, so if there is less money there will be fewer services.
Now, if a school pupil can grasp that simple concept, why can’t Alex Neil?