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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Fire Alarm Standards, Local Government Funding, Education and the 2022 Examination Diet, Standards Commission for Scotland (Appointment of Member), Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Asda Foundation


Local Government Funding

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-02838, in the name of Miles Briggs, on protecting local government funding in Scotland. I invite members who wish to participate in the debate to press their request-to-speak button or enter R in the chat function now or as soon as possible. I advise the chamber that we are very tight for time. I would therefore be grateful if members could stick to their time allocation and note that we will probably have to accommodate any interventions in those allocations.

I call Miles Briggs to speak to and move the motion for around seven minutes.


Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

I open today’s Scottish Conservative debate on local government finance by thanking all those who work in our local authorities across Scotland. It is incredibly important that we thank them for what they have done during the pandemic in going the extra mile to support all our communities.

Today’s debate is an important one for Parliament to consider, because this Scottish National Party-Green budget is not acceptable and will not help services to recover from the pandemic.

After 15 years of this SNP Government underfunding local government in Scotland, there is increasing concern over the long-term financial sustainability of local government finances and the problems facing our Scottish councils that have been allowed to build up under this Government with no reform or leadership shown by SNP ministers. Put simply, council leaders across Scotland have nothing else that they can cut to save money and balance their books.

How we adequately fund local government is vitally important, which I think we all agree on. For many individuals and families, the local services that they depend on are delivered by their council. SNP ministers have underfunded councils for many years. From 2007 to 2019, the Scottish Government’s budget increased at more than double the rate of the grant that SNP ministers passed on to local councils.

The question today is therefore a simple one: why have SNP ministers delivered such a poor financial settlement again this year?

I respect Miles Briggs’s position on supplementing the local government budget. Where would he take it from?

Miles Briggs

We have been absolutely clear. The finance secretary has seen £3.9 billion of additional Barnett consequentials from the United Kingdom Government. That should be handed on to local government—that is where we on this side of the chamber stand. We want to see a fair deal for local authorities, whereby the funding that the Scottish Government receives is adequately handed on to local authorities.

Will the member give way?

Very, very briefly.

Neil Gray

Miles Briggs will note that the Scottish Fiscal Commission has said that, year on year, the Scottish budget is down 5.2 per cent accounting for inflation. I want to see a fair settlement for local government that is also inflation proof. However, for him to be consistent, does he not reckon that the UK Government needs to make sure that the Scottish budget is inflation proof, too?

Miles Briggs

The member needs to understand that the Government that he supports has not handed on to local authorities the money that it has been given in Barnett consequentials—and it is not just Barnett consequentials; if we look at the national insurance contributions compensation, we see that that has not been passed on either. When the member raises those concerns in the chamber, he needs to speak to his own ministers to make sure that they have passed on those Barnett consequentials.

In bringing forward this debate today, I hope that it will give the SNP-Green Government the chance to think again and look at how to provide a fair deal for councils and the resources that they need to deliver vital local services. I fully respect that the Government might not want to hear this from me, but maybe it should listen to its own council leaders.

I welcome this week’s U-turn by Nicola Sturgeon and the finance secretary, which means that they will now meet council leaders after a furious backlash in response to the SNP-Green Government’s real-terms cut for local authorities. It is clear that, as things stand, the budget settlement will see a real-terms cut of around £371 million to the core local government budget, which has been frozen in cash terms.

In addition, analysis by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities found that additional policy obligations placed on local government in 2022-23 have been underfunded by around £100 million.

SNP-Green ministers have repeatedly said that they respect and want to work in partnership with our local authorities. When the budget comes back to Parliament next week, we will see what that looks like. In the Government’s amendment, no answers have been put forward. All that we see is that ministers are offering a citizens assembly to look at sources of local government funding. SNP ministers do not need a citizens assembly to tell them that they are short changing local government—they simply need to pick up the phone to SNP council leaders.

We need to see a sea change and a new partnership built between the Scottish Government and local authorities. That is why Scottish Conservatives are proposing a new fair funding formula to make sure that councils receive their fair share of funding when the Scottish Government does. Although the Barnett formula ensures that the Scottish Government’s budget is linked to UK Government spending, there is no such protection for local government and the services that it provides.

The new fair funding formula would help to deliver a new financial framework that ensures that councils automatically receive a set percentage of the Scottish Government budget each year, mirroring the relationship that the Scottish Government has with the UK Government. That would prevent SNP ministers from consistently asking our councils to do more with less and it would prevent the situation that we see today, where SNP-Green ministers ring fence council budgets for their Scottish Government priorities on the one hand and cut council funding on the other.

I hope that all parties will unite today to support our councils. SNP-Green ministers cannot continue to simply pass the blame for their cuts to councils. The SNP-Green budget has yet again put council leaders the length and breadth of Scotland in the position of having to make huge cuts to services or dramatically increase council tax at the very time that ministers have received record levels of funding from the UK Government.

SNP-Green ministers need to think again. The Scottish Government must provide the resources that are needed to fund our good schools and social care services, and it must properly fund our councils to help to build stronger, safer and more prosperous communities. That is something that we should all unite around. I hope that, as the cabinet secretary listens to the debate, she understands that she has to look again at the Government budget that she has provided.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the calls made by COSLA and all council group leaders for the Scottish Government to deliver a much better financial settlement for the next financial year; further notes that COSLA states that the funding cut to the core revenue budget is £371 million in real terms, and calls on the Scottish Government to commit to fair funding for local councils by delivering a new financial framework, which will ensure that councils automatically receive a set percentage of the Scottish Government budget each year.

I call the minister to speak to and move amendment S6M-02838.2.


The Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth (Tom Arthur)

I welcome the debate. As Miles Briggs has done—and I am sure that many others will do—I recognise the crucial role that councils play in delivering public services and supporting communities, and the part that they play in delivering a national recovery. We might disagree at times, but I hope that we can all agree on that.

Ultimately, today, we are talking about difficult budget choices. Core to this afternoon’s debate is the fact that the Scottish budget in 2022-23 is lower than it was in 2021-22. That is not my conclusion and nor is it that of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy; it is the conclusion of the independent Scottish Fiscal Commission, which said in its report “Scotland’s Economic and Fiscal Forecasts”:

“Overall the Scottish Budget in 2022-23 is 2.6 per cent lower than in 2021-22, and after accounting for inflation the reduction is 5.2 per cent.”

The point was made in the intervention by my colleague Neil Gray.

Can the minister give us a comparison with the budget two years ago, given that last year, of course, we had a huge increase because of Covid spend?

Tom Arthur

I note that it was about two years ago that my colleague Kenny Gibson raised in the Parliament the issue of a new virus that had been detected in China—I think that that was the first mention of the virus in the Parliament. The difference between now and two years ago is that we are still in the teeth of a global pandemic. I appreciate that Mr Lumsden’s colleagues in Westminster might be waving their masks in the chamber because they think that the pandemic is over, but the reality is that the pandemic is certainly not over and that a huge amount of recovery work will have to be undertaken. That has to be taken into account in the settlement that this Government is given from Westminster.

Despite a 5.2 per cent reduction, the Scottish budget delivers record funding of £18 billion for health and social care, doubles the Scottish child payment and introduces free bus travel for everyone under the age of 22. It delivers an overall settlement to local government that is worth more than £12.5 billion—an increase of £588.2 million in real terms.

Will the minister give way?

Tom Arthur

I will give way to Mr Briggs in a moment.

In the context of a 5.2 per cent real-terms reduction in the overall budget, the local government settlement has increased by 5.1 per cent, again in real terms. The growth in the overall settlement was acknowledged by the COSLA resource spokesperson in evidence to the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee last week.

Having taken the decision to pass on all front-line health and care consequentials in full, we protected local government by providing a flat-cash core budget, alongside a further £1.4 billion, which is transferred from other portfolios, for joint priorities. By definition, a flat-cash core allocation does not take account of inflation. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy has acknowledged that we cannot inflation proof any part of the Scottish Government budget, such is the nature of inflation right now. We do not underestimate the challenges that the allocation presents, but it is simply not possible to inflation proof all budget lines when the overall budget is not inflation proofed.

Will the minister take an intervention?

Tom Arthur

I am afraid that I need to make a wee bit more progress; I will take an intervention from Mr Briggs in a moment.

In acknowledging the challenges, we must also be honest about the fact that pay increases and changes in the design of national insurance are themselves inflationary pressures. It is therefore not correct to claim that there is a real-terms cut to the local government budget while claiming that no account is taken of pay inflation or increased employer national insurance contributions.

Will the minister take an intervention?

I said that I would take an intervention from Miles Briggs, as he requested one first.

Miles Briggs

I thank the minister.

I have two things to ask. First, COSLA highlighted that the Scottish Government has not handed on national insurance contributions compensation of around £70 million. Why is that?

Secondly, if this budget is as wonderful as he makes out, why has Iain Nicolson, the leader of Renfrewshire Council and a fellow SNP member, had to write to the First Minister to ask for the settlement to be looked at again?

Tom Arthur

I recognise that the challenges that we face in our budget are ultimately a reflection of the challenges that we face as a consequence of the UK Government’s settlement to the Scottish Parliament.

Let us get to the core point. Funding that is handed on to local government is funding that is not handed on elsewhere. I recognise that some members might disagree with the Government’s decisions to pass on the front-line health and social care consequentials in full, to help to tackle child poverty and inequality by doubling the game-changing Scottish child payment, to provide more than £500 million to councils to support investment in health and social care, to allocate £145 million extra for additional teachers and support staff and to support the expansion of free school meals, with an extra £60 million in revenue and £30 million in capital funding.

We take the view that those are not just Scottish Government priorities but joint priorities with local government, and I believe that they attract cross-party support in this Parliament. However, if Opposition parties do not agree with those investments, they are fully entitled to propose alternative—but balanced—funding proposals ahead of consideration of the Budget (Scotland) Bill next week.

The budget also provides councils with a number of flexibilities, including over council tax rate setting, as they requested, and we have reaffirmed our commitment to developing a local government fiscal framework in partnership with COSLA. I want to be clear that any framework must be developed in partnership with local government. It must be workable and must learn lessons from the implementation of the broader Scottish fiscal framework. Crucially, it cannot put funding for the national health service at risk.

It will be important for local government to bring forward fiscal framework proposals that can be explored in partnership. There is no reason why those proposals need only come from local government, however. In that regard, I note the Conservatives’ motion. I welcome the contribution that Miles Briggs is making. I hope that other Conservative members—perhaps Mr Briggs or Ms Smith in summing up later in the debate—can provide more detail about how what they propose would work in practice. Clearly, there would be significant consequences elsewhere in the budget.

You must now conclude.

Tom Arthur

I again welcome the debate, and I am looking forward to the contributions of members from across the chamber.

I move amendment S6M-02838.2, to leave out from “calls made” to end and insert:

“key role that councils play in their communities and their part in delivering a national recovery; recognises that the independent Scottish Fiscal Commission has stated that overall the 2022-23 Scottish Budget has reduced in real terms by 5.2%; notes that this is in spite of continued COVID-19 and inflationary pressures on public services; welcomes the Scottish Government’s Budget for 2022-23, which, despite these challenges, includes record funding of £18 billion for Health and Social Care, doubles the Scottish Child Payment, introduces free bus travel for everyone under the age of 22, and delivers a fair settlement worth over £12.5 billion of funding to local authorities; recognises that the total local government settlement has increased by £588.2 million, or 5.1% in real terms, including specific funding for social care, education and employability support, and welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to developing a fiscal framework for local government and delivering a citizens’ assembly on sources of local government funding.”


Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Here we are again: another debate about local government budgets, another SNP budget, another devastating raid on council budgets that provide absolutely vital local services, another £371 million gone from the core revenue budget in real terms and a further 4 per cent being ring fenced. The Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth and many of his ministerial colleagues have stood up and said how much they value local government and local government workers. I think that it was President Biden who said:

“Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you”.

Local government workers and people who rely on local government services hear what it values loud and clear from the Government.

I assume that Mark Griffin wants the local government settlement to go up. Every penny is allocated, so where would the money come from in the budget?

It is clear that the Scottish Government’s budget has increased. We are asking for the—

Where would he take the money from?

Mark Griffin

We are asking for the Scottish Government to respect local government. I grant that the Accounts Commission has said that, since 2013-14, Scottish Government budgets have reduced by 0.8 per cent. At the same time, however, the Scottish Government has hammered local government by cutting its budgets by 4.7 per cent, thereby magnifying every single budget cut that it has been passed by the Tories and hammering local services.

We will support the motion, because we believe that it is simply unsustainable for the SNP to continue cutting council budgets to the bone. Services are already at breaking point.

Will the member give way?

Mark Griffin

I would normally take as many interventions as members would like to make, but I have only five minutes.

Today the president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has said that tax rises are inevitable and that cuts are inevitable, unless, as the motion asks for, the Government delivers an improved financial settlement. Those are not choices; they are SNP cuts that have been forced on local government as part of a sustained campaign that has been going on for a decade and has cost services £937 million since 2013.

Were the European Charter of Local Self-Government (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill to be enforced, the Government would clearly be in breach of it.

There are a couple of differences this year compared with what has happened in the previous decade. The minister’s and the cabinet secretary’s SNP council colleagues have finally said in public what they have been saying behind closed doors for a decade: they cannot cope with any more cuts.

We know that the Greens, who are in the Government, have signed off on the cuts, so the cabinet secretary has no chance to find that extra couple of hundred million pounds for a deal.

Most concerning of all is that we are in the grip of the biggest cost-of-living crisis in years. Inflation is at its highest level in five years, and the cabinet secretary took to the radio this morning to say that she could not inflation proof budgets, and that it is inflation’s doing that ring-fenced spending has increased, having jumped from 58 per cent to 62 per cent this year. That is what she said, but she could not say who caused the portion of the budget with which councils have maximum flexibility for delivering local priorities to fall. It is worth knowing that, in 2013, controlled spend was just 25 per cent. It is almost as if the SNP Government wants us to forget that local councils are democratically elected and are accountable to their voters.

The cabinet secretary also said that only 7 per cent of the budget is ring fenced for grants for SNP Government projects, but even by that count—which I dispute—the amount has, according to the Scottish Parliament information centre, grown from 0.1 per cent of the budget in 2013, or by 70 times.

We agree that local government needs a fiscal framework in order that it can make the decisions that are best for local communities, but we are alive to fears that that could bake in a decade of cuts. Our amendment seeks to qualify the percentage that the Conservative motion proposes, because we cannot accept continued pernicious ring fencing to take place within that set proportion of the Scottish budget.

Finally, the issue of local government staff pay must be heard. The budget is disastrous for the tireless army of local government workers. Not only do they have the task of implementing yet more cuts, but they are doing so in spite of the exhausting task of having kept the country moving through two years of the pandemic. Youth link community workers, carers, cleansing staff, teaching assistants, street cleaners and so many more have worked flat out to keep going the services that we have all relied on and clapped for. However, 55 per cent of them earn below £25,000 per annum. In the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee last week, Johanna Baxter of Unison told us how angry and frustrated they are, and that councils will see a “difficult industrial landscape ahead”.

I ask the Government to reconsider and to deliver a budget that can deliver a fair pay increase for staff and a fair settlement for local authorities.

I move, as amendment to motion S6M-02838, to insert at end:

“; believes that this set percentage of the Scottish Government budget each year should be for essential and non-ringfenced services to afford local councils maximum flexibility in delivering local priorities; notes that the 2022-23 offer comes on top of the damaging effects of a cumulative Scottish Government cut to local authority revenue budgets of £937 million between 2013-14 and 2021-22, and agrees that the heroic effort of local government workers to keep the country going during the COVID-19 pandemic must be recognised in the 2022-23 financial settlement from the Scottish Government, giving local authorities the opportunity to offer a fair pay settlement to their staff.”


Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

We have learned something new today, which is that Kenny Gibson discovered Covid.

We already knew that local government has been on the rough end of the SNP Government’s priorities for years. This year’s budget is no different from all the rest, as Mr Gibson knows. We get the usual conjurer’s trick from ministers, who send ring-fenced parcels of money to local councils for new tasks and claim that that money is for old tasks. The money goes up, but the costs of the new responsibilities go even higher, which leaves councils to cut other services.

This year’s funding settlement is harsher than most, with hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts. That is why councillors of all political persuasions, including the SNP, are so angry this year. While other services across the UK have been compensated for the national insurance increase, local government in Scotland has been left with a big hole in the finances.

Will the member give way?

Willie Rennie

I have only four minutes, although I would have loved to take an intervention.

When the roads are full of potholes, the streets are covered in rubbish, schools do not have the funds that they need and community services are shut, there is just one place where local government should look, and that is the SNP Government sitting in St Andrews house.

Meanwhile, the SNP’s 15-year-old plan to scrap the unfair council tax has not moved 1 inch forward. I have attended endless Government talking shops on that. If hot air could scrap the council tax, we would have a new tax every year. However, that is all going to change now: I have a new great hope, because the Greens are in Government. I am looking forward to the forthcoming bill to scrap the council tax, led by Patrick Harvie. We all live in great hope of new times.

Today we have a rehash of last year’s Conservative motion. They have not learned from their mistakes. We all remember that, in the past, when the UK Government has allocated Barnett consequentials for health, the Scottish Conservatives have wanted it to be guaranteed for health. Well—not any more. In 2018, Prime Minister Theresa May said that she would increase national health service funding, which would mean £2 billion of consequentials for the Scottish Government by 2023. Back then, the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell—remember those glory days?—said, “I urge” the First Minister and

“the Scottish government to invest this extra money in improving health services”.

With the motion, all of that would be out of the window. Under the Conservatives’ plan, between 2018 and 2023 more than £600 million would be automatically removed from the NHS Scotland annual budget.

People expect their Parliament to judge different needs and not just to remove hundreds of millions of pounds from a budget because the Conservatives’ computer tells them to do that. Instead, we need a fair funding settlement for councils, based on the good judgement of MSPs.

I want councils to be able to raise the majority of the money that they spend, just as Holyrood does. If councils control the purse strings, they are free to determine their own future, in partnership with the communities that they serve. If the councils or the voters did not like the decisions on tax and spend, they could chuck them out. We need a framework that nurtures that relationship. That is why we cannot support the Conservative motion.


Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Like all budgets, the budget for 2022-23 is about choice and prioritising how best to invest in services, infrastructure and people at a time of financial challenge. With fiscal rectitude, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy and the wider Scottish Government have made their choices and set out their priorities.

As we know, the Scottish budget is limited by the forecasts of the independent Scottish Fiscal Commission, beyond which the finance secretary cannot go. I, too, would like more resources to be allocated to local government—who would not?—but this year the Scottish Fiscal Commission has made it clear that Parliament will suffer a real-terms cut, courtesy of Miles Briggs’s Tory bosses at Westminster. It is worth quoting again what the SFC has said, and which was mentioned at the Finance and Public Administration Committee. It said:

“Overall the Scottish Budget in 2022-23 is 2.6 per cent lower than in 2021-22, after accounting for inflation the reduction is 5.2 per cent.”

Miles Briggs and his colleagues should tell us how much additional resource should be allocated to local government from actual Scottish Government resources, not from the mythical funds that he mentioned. He did not tell us that. From where should the extra resources that are being demanded be found, given that the Scottish ministers have such limited room for manoeuvre? Should we raise taxes? If so, which ones? Who should pay and how much should they pay? If money is to be reallocated from other Scottish budget portfolios, which ones should it be reallocated from? Should it be health, transport or net zero? By how much should each portfolio budget be cut to provide additional funding for local authorities? When answers are not forthcoming, that just sounds to me like hot air and posturing.

Miles Briggs

Mr Gibson will be aware that the Scottish Government budget has increased by 7 per cent. That is more than inflation, so that is exactly where the funding can come from. I will make another suggestion. Why not stop spending £7 million on ministers being ferried around and give that to local authorities?

Kenneth Gibson

I wonder how much Whitehall spends on ferrying ministers around.

The mythical figures are nonsense, which is why the independent Scottish Fiscal Commission has dismissed them. We are talking about reality.

I am also curious about how genuine the Tory MSPs’ concern for our local authorities is. If local government is so important to the party that Miles Briggs supports so devotedly, will he tell us why the Tory Government south of the border has eviscerated it so viciously? According to the Institute for Government, the UK Tory Government cut resources to English and Welsh local authorities, including retained business rates, by an eye-watering 37 per cent in real terms between 2010 and 2019-20—from £41 billion to £26 billion at 2019-20 prices. While funding from previous UK coalition—we clearly recall the Liberal Democrats’ role in that—and Tory Governments was slashed, rates of council tax were increased and English local authorities raised 25 per cent more council tax in real terms in 2019-20 than they raised a decade earlier.

If we compare Scotland to England and Wales, we see that there is simply no relationship between, on one hand, the solid support that the Scottish Government has provided to our councils post the financial crash and through austerity and, on the other, the devastation that has been wrought on local authority services down south. The reality is that no one takes seriously the Tories’ claims that they are advocates for local government.

The Labour Party, of course, just wants to drone on about alleged SNP cuts, which it seeks to blame on the Scottish Government rather than on its better together allies. However, when its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn—do members remember him?—was asked about the depth of the cuts that have been imposed by Labour in Wales, he meekly said that the party had no choice but to pass them on from Westminster. Labour members bleat about 7 per cent of the budget being ring fenced. I recall that 60 local government budget lines were ring fenced when the Lib Dems and Labour were last in power here, and that Wendy Alexander called for full ring fencing of local government budgets.

Willie Rennie was right to say that it is a bizarre idea that councils should, as the Tory motion suggests, automatically receive a set percentage of the Scottish Government budget each year. Why local government and not health, education or justice? With the impending 5.2 per cent cut, that daft Tory proposal would be guaranteed to deliver less funding to our councils.

All Governments need flexibility—they do not have a crystal ball to enable them to see where unexpected financial shocks might arise in the future. For instance, who saw, in 2019, the financial impact of a pandemic coming down the road?

Through methods ranging from resource borrowing to the less-palatable fiscal drag, the Scottish Government is delivering local government tax flexibility in the best possible settlement within a financial straitjacket that has been imposed on us by the Tories at Westminster. Only with independence will the Scottish Government have the ability to deliver the budget for local government, and for every other portfolio, that we all want to see—

You need to conclude now, Mr Gibson.

Members should support the Scottish Government amendment.


Craig Hoy (South Scotland) (Con)

Kenny Gibson might be a world-leading epidemiologist, but he cannot make his sums add up.

I thank my Scottish Conservative colleagues for bringing this important debate to the chamber. Before I begin, I draw attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I am a serving councillor on East Lothian Council.

The financial crisis facing Scotland’s local authorities is stark, and entirely of the SNP’s making. As a councillor who represents a ward in East Lothian, which is in the South Scotland region, I am only too well aware of the gravity of the problem that our councils all face. Let there be no doubt about it: the SNP’s austerity agenda for local government continues, with—[Interruption.] No, I will not give way.

East Lothian Council is set to lose out on £4.5 million this year. The Government has starved that council, and every other council, for years, and the situation is now serious. The picture that it paints is so bad that it now looks vindictive.

Despite a record settlement from Westminster, the Scottish Government has cut East Lothian’s budget by £1 million in real terms next year, and the council will be a further £3.5 million worse off as a result of changes to the floor-based funding formula, with funding being pooled with other councils. It is simply unfair that one of the fastest-growing areas in Scotland is being repeatedly penalised by the SNP. I urge the Scottish Government to stop short-changing the residents of East Lothian.

It is not only the people of East Lothian who are losing out; the picture is the same across Scotland. As Miles Briggs pointed out, COSLA estimates that £371 million of core funding for Scottish councils will be cut in real terms during this year alone. That is £371 million of cuts to roads, social services, education, housing and refuse collection across Scotland.

While the SNP Government starves communities of funding, it is forcing councils to raise taxes for millions of Scots—

Will the member give way?

Craig Hoy

No, I will not give way—I have only four minutes, sadly.

The SNP Government is forcing councils to raise taxes just as the cost of living is rising. That is why the Scottish Conservatives are proposing a clear solution to the crisis, which is a crisis of the SNP’s making. We want a permanent settlement for Scotland’s councils that ring fences a percentage of the overall Scottish budget for councils’ funding. We need a fair deal for our councils, and we need it now.

The situation that is emerging in front of us is starker and more serious still. After years of failing to fund our councils, the SNP is stepping up its assault. The Scottish Government’s plan for the creation of a national care service is an assault on local government and an attack on local accountability. What started with the Feeley review of adult social care—arguably an area in need of funding, reform and new thinking—is fast becoming just the latest in a long line of SNP power grabs. It is perhaps the greatest power grab in the history of devolution.

Let us look at the words of COSLA president Alison Evison; she described the national care service plan as “an attack on localism”. On the latest cuts to local councils, all 32 Scottish council leaders have written to the First Minister to tell her that “enough is enough”. We know that the SNP does not do dissent, but even council leaders from the First Minister’s own party are worried. John Alexander, who is SNP council leader for Dundee, has described the recent Scottish budget as

“perhaps the toughest in recent memory”.

After years of hollowing out councils, the SNP is now mounting a direct assault on local government. The SNP wants to scrap local accountability and impose total ministerial control on care, and it is continuing to raid council budgets to pay for pet projects.

When it comes to the SNP and our cash-strapped councils, COSLA is correct: enough is enough.


Michelle Thomson (Falkirk East) (SNP)

The events of recent days have once again highlighted the hypocrisy of the Tories. Perhaps they have already forgotten the waste of public funds in awarding personal protective equipment contracts to their pals and the writing-off—only yesterday—of an incredible £4.3 billion for fraudulent business Covid claims; perhaps they were instead focusing on their penchant for partying.

Even as the Tories were lodging the motion for today’s debate, their Home Secretary, Priti Patel, was launching an outrageous and ill-informed attack on Scotland’s councils in Westminster this week, so forgive me if I am a little cynical about Tory support for Scotland’s councils.

The motion is defective. I will focus on just a few of the issues, given the limited time available. The single ask in the motion is to create a funding settlement that is entirely fixed to a percentage of the Scottish Government budget. That proposal is flawed because it does not allow flexibility for the Government to deal with unforeseen shocks, as was mentioned earlier. The current pandemic is a good example; the fallout from the 2008 economic crisis is another.

Had the Tories put down a sensible economic motion seeking to support the calls by many for increased borrowing powers, that would have been a motion which we could all have rallied around.

The motion is also at serious fault in failing to consider the current economic uncertainties. For example, during 2021, forecasts by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Scottish Fiscal Commission and independent forecasters were all subject to considerable change. The forecasts that were published in the lead-up to the Scottish budget failed to take account of the then unknown and arguably unanticipated omicron variant, which is likely to lead to further significant downward changes in forecasts. To fail to understand the consequence of such uncertainties for Government funding is simply not realistic.

Of course, there is one other shock, this time deliberately created by the Tories. The word that dare not speak its name is Brexit, which has had serious implications for local authorities. For example, in response to information requests from the Finance and Public Administration Committee, Scotland’s local authorities have raised very serious concerns about the UK Government’s plans for the replacement of European Union structural funds. Those concerns include the questioning of a seriously flawed methodology that does not respond to Scottish conditions and the failure by the UK Government to fund the resources required to operate the replacement funds, yet nowhere in the motion is the UK Government called out for the harms that it is inflicting on Scottish councils.

Of course, the Scottish Government and our local authorities will be constrained by the operation of the Tory-inspired United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and the Subsidy Control Bill that is currently going through Westminster.

The Tory motion fails to recognise that, despite all those challenges, uncertainties and constraints, the Scottish Government has come up with an overall settlement in excess of £12.5 billion, representing a real-terms increase of some 5.1 per cent.

As has been pointed out, the Scottish Government has already committed to working with COSLA to develop a rules-based fiscal framework to support future funding settlements for local government. I hope that all parties can support that.

Finally, no lectures, please, from a Tory party that rewards its own, attacks our local authorities from Westminster and blocks at every turn the need to enhance this Parliament’s financial and economic powers.

I call Paul O’Kane, who also joins us remotely.


Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

I remind members that I am still a member of East Renfrewshire Council, where I have been a councillor for almost 10 years. It has been—and continues to be—one of the most fulfilling roles that I have ever had the honour to have. Indeed, to be a councillor representing the community you grew up in is an honourable thing.

As a councillor, I have been the convener for education and deputy leader of the council, and I have seen first hand over the past decade how the SNP Government has worn down local government, forcing those in charge to cut services as the budgets are continually cut, year after year.

It has been incredibly challenging to be a local representative when we are consistently faced with budget processes that bring more and more cuts. Indeed, I think of the anxious wait that councillors have every year as we await the settlement from the Government; the long meetings to discuss how to plug some of the gaps using reserves or council tax; and the painful consultation processes as we try to decide on the least worst option in a sea of unthinkable options.

I am not sure whether colleagues in the chamber who have not had to do any of that can fully understand the sleepless nights that it causes, thinking about people’s jobs, people’s services and the communities that we care about.

It is not just councillors who feel like that; it is also the staff, who work so hard in local government. Nobody seeks a career in a local authority in order to make cuts, but Government choices have made many of our dedicated local government officers managers of cuts. I have watched the stress of hard-working officers in education, social work and environment, when they have to spend so much time coming up with unthinkable options, just to square the budget.

I have also seen our workers stretched thin, as they are asked to do more and more to plug the gaps that have been created by cuts. Every Thursday night during the pandemic, the First Minister and Cabinet applauded our key workers, but stress is being piled on to those workers, 55 per cent of whom are paid below £25,000 a year. That is shameful.

Every day in my ward, I see how cuts that have been forced down from Government are hitting our communities and the most vulnerable. Pupil support assistant numbers have been cut, road budgets have been reduced and social care is on its knees. The reality of all that is that people across Scotland are being failed, and there is no sign of it getting better.

We hear from the Government that it has delivered initiatives, such as free early learning and childcare and free school meals, but there is not nearly enough funding to deliver that on the ground in reality, and to ensure that the core infrastructure can be maintained in order to make those things happen.

Of course, the Government is always keen to hold up its manifesto commitments, but what is the reality on the ground when local government has to deliver them? The reform to council tax never appeared; funding to refurbish every play park in Scotland was barely a fraction of what was required; and the proposal to give a free bike to every pupil who cannot afford one was consigned to a pilot that does not scratch the surface. Those are empty words and broken promises from the SNP.

The future holds even more cuts to local government budgets. The budget that was published last month saw a core funding cut of £371 million. That budget makes no provision for pay, inflation, increased demand for services or—as we have heard—the increased burden of national insurance contributions.

To place those cuts in a wider context, that is all happening as we see one of the biggest increases to the cost of living in decades. Such is the scale of the problem that there has been an unprecedented reaction from all 32 council leaders in Scotland, who are calling for the Government to meet them to discuss the settlement, because enough is enough.

It is clear that the SNP Government has failed local government and those who live in our communities. Cuts to councils are cuts to communities and, if the course does not change, the very fabric of our communities will be irreparably damaged.


Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

It has been a pattern for years in this Parliament that members on the Tory benches utter not a word of concern or objection when their Westminster colleagues cut Scotland’s budget, but they rush to this chamber to condemn every perceived cut that is made under the Scottish Government’s budget and to make spending demands that exceed the money that is available. As has been mentioned, this year, they are going so far as to claim that a 5 per cent real terms cut from Westminster is somehow an increase. We are all guilty of picking and choosing the figures that suit our position best in these debates, but that claim goes beyond that. It is actively misleading to claim that a cut is a significant increase and, as the Government amendment notes, it is contrary to the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s analysis.

In this debate, not one Conservative member has so far been able to explain how the Scottish Government is expected to sustain the costs of the pandemic from core funds without that impacting on other services. However, that is the result of Covid consequentials being withdrawn when Covid and its effects are still very much with us.

For example, bus and rail use are down by a third in Scotland and that is not expected to change significantly in the next financial year. It will require significant subsidy to keep essential services operating but, without last year’s Covid consequentials being repeated, the choice is either to provide those subsidies from the core transport budget, which will put pressure on other areas, or to let our transport system collapse overnight as the operators withdraw. I presume that the Tories do not want to see its collapse.

Will the member take an intervention?

Ross Greer

I would be delighted to accept an intervention from Mr Briggs, but I repeat the question that others have asked him. Today, the Conservatives have repeated COSLA’s ask for £371 million but, since all the money that is available to the Scottish Government has already been allocated, from which budget would he cut £371 million in order to fulfil what COSLA is asking for?

Miles Briggs

I have been absolutely clear that the Government has £3.9 billion in additional consequentials. It is this Government’s decision to cut funding. We have not yet had an answer from ministers about the national insurance increase. Ministers sitting on the front bench, whom Ross Greer supports, have £70 million that they have not passed on to local authorities for the national insurance compensation. Why is that, and will he and his Green colleagues ask the ministers to do that at the upcoming budget?

I will give you back that time, Mr Greer.

Thank you, that is much appreciated.

First, there is no specific consequential for the national insurance increase.

Yes, there is.

Ross Greer

There are broad consequentials, but, yet again, Mr Briggs has failed to answer the question. Every penny that is available to the Scottish Government has been allocated. There is no money sitting unallocated, but the Conservatives will not explain where they will cut £371 million. COSLA’s point is entirely legitimate, but it is disingenuous of the Conservatives to pretend that it can be fulfilled without significant impacts elsewhere.

Despite the pressures on the Scottish Government, the budget delivers a real-terms increase of more than £0.5 billion to councils. That includes an additional £145 million for teacher recruitment, which is enough to fund 2,500 additional posts. There is £30 million in capital funding to facilitate the expansion of free schools meals, and £60 million for the meals themselves.

Will the member take an intervention?

Ross Greer

No, not at this point.

There is £175 million to fund the pay increase for care sector workers, and £200 million more for health and social care. I am not suggesting that everything is rosy—COSLA has a perfectly legitimate case to make for more funding, but it is not the only one. The budget represents the fairest possible distribution of extremely limited funding in extremely challenging circumstances.

I have yet to hear from where the Opposition would cut £371 million to fulfil what COSLA is asking for, or what changes it would make to tax policy to raise the funds. The only income tax policy that I can recall the Tories bringing to the Parliament since that power was devolved was the proposed cut for the top 15 per cent of earners, which would have cut a further £0.5 billion from our budget.

Back in 2018, the Greens made changes to income tax to make it more progressive and raise additional funds for public services. This year, a further change was made, freezing the higher and top-rate thresholds, which will raise a further £106 million. I happen to be of the view that we will have to raise significant additional amounts of money from a variety of sources, both existing and new, over this session if we are to meet the objectives that we all share, particularly around child poverty reduction and reaching net zero. Achieving those targets will require a significant increase in funding for local government. That is why the shared policy programme agreed by the two parties of Government commits to delivering both the fiscal framework for local government and a citizens assembly on local government funding. I have my concerns—including those outlined by Willie Rennie—about the Conservatives’ proposal, but I welcome that they have at least brought to the chamber a specific proposal for once.

Both the fiscal framework and the citizens assembly will be transformational in the long term, but I accept that they do not ease the pressure on councils in this financial year.

You need to conclude now, Mr Greer.

Ross Greer

The Scottish Government has done what it can to ease that pressure. If the Tories are serious about removing it completely, they should look to their colleagues in government at Westminster, because the situation is of the Conservative Party’s making.


Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am still a councillor at Aberdeen City Council.

Throughout the pandemic, our local authorities have been on the front line of providing essential services to our communities. They have gone above and beyond, organising food parcels, online learning, emergency assistance and support to resilience groups—the list goes on and on. They have done so while continuing to provide all their usual essential services, such as caring for our most vulnerable, fixing our roads, emptying our bins and providing community support. They deserve our thanks, praise and, more important, financial support to enable them to continue to provide those essential services.

That is why the funding settlement announced by the cabinet secretary is nothing short of a slap in the face to all the local authorities that have gone above and beyond what is expected on behalf of this devolved Government.

Up and down Scotland, councillors are currently poring over budget spreadsheets, agonising over how they can continue to provide essential services while facing a huge budget cut. They are all desperate not to raise council tax too much, given the pressure on the cost of living in their communities. However, the Scottish Government has passed the buck. It has cut core council funding, and now expects councillors to raise council tax to fill the gap or reduce vital services. It is simply not acceptable.

Council leaders are in agreement that the Scottish Government is ignoring them, with calls for meetings being ignored, engagement lacking and major policy announcements, such as the national care service consultation, being made with no discussion or collaboration. The way that the devolved Scottish Government treats its local government partners is a disgrace.

The Scottish Government has many warm words on preventing drug deaths and on matters such as climate change and educational attainment. Early intervention is key to many of the challenges that we face, and local government is where that preventative work takes place. Local government provides youth clubs, social centres, sports facilities, lunch clubs and school counselling services. All those much-needed facilities are at risk as local government budget cuts continue. Without those preventative services, how will we continue to tackle the challenges that we face at the earliest possible opportunity? If the devolved Government was serious about prevention, it would be investing in local government and not pulling the rug from under its feet.

I turn finally to the question of national insurance, and I ask the cabinet secretary to answer one question. COSLA confirmed to council leaders this week that the Scottish Government has received consequential payments to cover the national insurance rise for local government employees but is refusing to pass that on to councils. In England, councils are being funded for the national insurance increase, but councils in Scotland are not. Local government is the backbone of our communities, so will the minister give us an assurance that the consequential money that was received to pay for national insurance contributions will be passed on to local authorities?

Our local councils have done us proud over the past two years; we should be thanking them, building them up, recognising the vital work that they do and treating them like equal partners in government. Instead, the Scottish Government treats them with contempt. It is time to give our local councils a fair funding settlement that reflects the vital work that they do, which would help them to deliver that work and in turn strengthen our towns, villages and local communities.

I remind colleagues that Mr Mason is the final speaker in the open debate and that everybody who participated in the debate should be here for the closing speeches.


John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

Like other members, I find the Conservative motion interesting in that it seeks more money for local government but does not say where that money should come from. The Labour amendment takes a similar path. One of the main options for raising such money is increasing taxes, which I would be open to, but we understand that the Tories are normally against tax rises. In fact, they usually do a lot of girning and whining about our income tax being higher than England’s. The other main option is to reduce expenditure somewhere else, and the most obvious option would be to cut NHS spending, because that is one of the largest parts of the Scottish budget. Which is it? Are the Conservatives now open to tax increases or are they seriously suggesting that we cut the health budget while we are still not out of the Covid pandemic?

A party that claims to understand business and the economy surely understands that the books have to balance, but I see nothing in the motion about the source of any additional funding for local government, and neither have they replied to that question from previous speakers.

I find the concept of a ring-fenced percentage of the budget somewhat bizarre. That would take away the powers of the Parliament and MSPs to examine the budget each year and consider where needs are greatest. Over the past couple of years of the Covid pandemic, we have had to reprioritise funding, which has emphasised health services, business support and local government services. I do not think that ring fencing the budget, and by implication ignoring any kind of needs assessment, would be reasonable.

There is also the separate but linked question of allocating local government funding among the 32 councils. I would argue that that too should be based on need. For example, Aberdeen was one of the richest parts of Scotland and therefore got less central funding, which was right at the time. If that is no longer the case, however, needs should be reassessed. Such a process would have to happen in conjunction with COSLA and all the councils.

The wider question is how local government should be funded and whether more of that funding should be raised directly by local councils. I very much support that concept. Apart from anything else, it would give councils more freedom by reducing their dependence on the centre for funding. Some central funding will always be needed in order to support councils that cannot raise the resources that they require for the needs in their area. Again, however, that funding should be based on need rather than giving everyone the same.

I agree with other members and would dearly love to see the replacement of council tax. As Willie Rennie mentioned, that question has dragged for far too long. At some point, we in Parliament need to bite the bullet and agree on a replacement tax. Such a tax will not please everyone. There will inevitably be winners and losers, but better funding for local government will mean that those who earn more, or who have more property and other assets, will need to pay more.

Let us remember that tax paid, as a share of gross domestic product, is around only 33 per cent in the UK compared to 45 per cent in France and 46 per cent in Denmark. For too long, we have tried to run quality public services without paying the sensible levels of tax that are required, so I welcome the work that the Scottish Government and the Finance and Public Administration Committee are planning to do on where we are going with tax in the longer term.

In summary, we need to be sensible; we can spend only the money that we have. If the Conservatives or Labour want more money for local government, they still have to tell us where it is coming from.


Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

This topic is undoubtedly important, but I am not sure that the debate has shed much more light on it. As invited by Tom Arthur at the beginning, I will try to build some consensus.

Local government is hugely important, but part of the problem is that we keep discussing local government funding when what we need to focus on is the reality that that money pays for roads, schools, libraries, playgrounds and social services that keep the most vulnerable safe. As Douglas Lumsden has said, local government has been at the forefront of the delivery of the most vital services through the Covid response.

We struggle to find more consensus. The debate is about not just the budget but the legacy of 10 years of cuts and underfunding of local government. We have seen the number of potholes increase fivefold over the past decade and £260,000 of compensation payments go to motorists in Edinburgh because of them; the number of libraries has been cut by a third and there are 32 per cent fewer librarians; and the numbers of non-core support staff in our schools have been slashed across the country.

It is difficult to engage with SNP members who claim that there are no cuts, only increases. The Accounts Commission clearly points out a 4.2 per cent real-terms cut in local government funding over the past five years, when Scottish Government funding has reduced by just 0.8 per cent. The Scottish Government took the cuts that the Tories passed on and increased them fivefold.

Let us talk frankly about numbers and not pretend that no cuts have taken place—they have, which is a crushing blow after the efforts of local government and its leaders. All 32 local council leaders signed the letter that states that the cuts amount to

“a £371m real terms cut”

in the current budget. If SNP members want to deny that figure, they need to explain why so many of their own council leaders signed that letter.

The SNP’s lack of clarity perhaps should not surprise us, because inconsistency has marked its time in Government with regard to local government. Let us consider council tax. When it came into government, the SNP heralded the fact that it would scrap it; later, it said that it would bring back councils’ ability to set their own council tax; last year, it said that it would freeze it again; and, in this budget, it said that it would restore to local government the discretion to set council tax. Which is it? How the SNP values and approaches local government rightly confuses us all.

The reality is that, over 10 years, local government has seen almost £1 billion cut in real terms from its ability to spend, which ultimately impacts roads, schools, libraries and playgrounds—the very services that are the fabric of our communities and the bedrock on which so many people rely. When we talk about those numbers, let us remember their real impacts and that real people and communities are the ones to suffer because of £1 billion-worth of cuts from the SNP Government over the past decade.


Tom Arthur

I am grateful to members from across the chamber for their contributions—[Interruption.] I am still not used to the masks after two years.

The Scottish budget has focused on the key priorities of tackling inequalities, addressing climate change and supporting our economic recovery. Scotland’s councils share those priorities, and it is clear that our citizens and communities are best served when we work together in partnership at national and local levels.

Will the minister give way?

Tom Arthur

I would like to make a little bit of progress, please.

Within that partnership, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy will join the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government and the Minister for Social Security and Local Government tomorrow for the inaugural strategic review group meeting with the COSLA presidential team. That group will work to drive greater collaborative working, and it will discuss the implications of the budget in more detail at the first meeting.

Next week, the First Minister will meet the COSLA presidential team and political group leaders in response to their letter on the budget to discuss how best to tackle the new phases of the pandemic, progress recovery and strengthen the partnership between national and local government to deliver for our communities.

Will the minister take an intervention?

Tom Arthur

I am going to make a bit more progress, because I am very tight for time.

Those meetings at the highest levels of Government highlight the priority that the Scottish Government places on working with local government to ensure that high-quality public services continue to be delivered across the country. The forthcoming resource spending review will also continue to focus on key priorities, and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy is already engaging with COSLA as part of that process.

The development of a fiscal framework will also have a direct relevance to the spending review. As I outlined in my opening speech today, a fiscal framework cannot be imposed on local government; it must be developed in partnership. The Scottish Government and COSLA have now recommenced the discussions on the fiscal framework that were paused during the pandemic, and a substantive amount of work will be done this year. The development of a fiscal framework is also an important part of the on-going work on the local governance review, which considers how powers, responsibilities and resources are shared across national and local spheres of government and with communities.

Despite the overall reduction in the resources available in the Scottish budget between 2021-22 to 2022-23, the total local government settlement has increased by £588.2 million or 5.1 per cent in real terms. Yes, those figures include the additional funding for priorities such as health and social care integration, the expansion of free school meals and the provision of additional teachers and support staff, but those are key priorities for all parties. If the budget had not funded those things, I am sure that the outrage that is being expressed today would have been redirected in that way.

I will give way to Mr Johnson.

I will be brief. Will the minister also acknowledge the Accounts Commission’s figures, which show a longer-term almost 5 per cent real-terms cut over five years?

Tom Arthur

It is important to recognise that we are operating within the context of an increasing health budget. The reality is something that Willie Rennie alluded to in his contribution. We have protected the health budget. To my knowledge, there has always been a consensus around all health consequentials being passed on. That is certainly the Government’s position. If other parties have a different view, they should say so clearly. Perhaps that will inform their contributions about where any additional resource for local government should come from in the budget.

I still have some time remaining, Presiding Officer—is that correct?

That is correct, Mr Arthur. You had up to five minutes.

I will take Mr Kerr’s intervention.

Liam Kerr

I am grateful to the minister for bringing me in. He mentioned climate change earlier. The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport requires local authorities to help to achieve net zero. Last week, the leader of Aberdeen City Council said that the draft budget would have

“a severe impact on what we can do”—[Official Report, Net Zero and Transport Committee, 11 January; c 29.]

in that space. What impact does the minister think a £371 million cut to council budgets will have on the ability of councils to meet net zero?

Tom Arthur

It is important to look at the total allocation to local government and at the broader resources being allocated to our net zero ambitions. That has to be seen in its totality, including the support that we are giving to the north-east.

I reiterate the points that my colleague the cabinet secretary made in interventions. I recognise that members want more money to be provided to local government, but the debate about that tends to be an annual one. Year after year, we do not hear where that resource should come from. I am not making a political point; I am asking in all sincerity, if members want additional resource to be provided to local government, where should it come from? If we can get to such a place, we will have an opportunity to have a far more constructive conversation and debate about local government finance. I think that we would all welcome that.


Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

When every council leader in Scotland, including those in SNP-run councils, such as the City of Edinburgh Council, Glasgow City Council and Dundee City Council, are not only demanding a crisis meeting with the First Minister but excoriating in their criticism of the budget settlement, that tells its own story.

Local government has clearly had enough, and the anger transcends party politics. Indeed, it is plain for all to see that the budget settlement for the coming year has been the last straw, after the consecutive years of cuts that Daniel Johnson referred to. Councils are greatly concerned about their ability to provide core services, and they are especially concerned about the delivery of health and social care provision, given the ever-pressing and increasing demands in that area.

In this Parliament, we know only too well that there is always some debate about budgets and their interpretation. Willie Rennie talked about the conjuror’s tricks. I have to say that he was guilty of being a conjuror. However, he was outdone by Mr Greer and his extraordinary contortions, which were quite separate from anything that any of his Green colleagues would have said when the party was not in government.

The minister mentioned what the Scottish Fiscal Commission said about the funding settlement. It also said that the Scottish Government and the local authorities are agreed on the fact that the cash-terms settlements for 2021-22 and 2022-23 are exactly the same. That is among the core issues that go to the heart of the debate, and it should be seen in the context of the fact that, from 2013-14 up until last year, the local government finance settlement decreased in real terms by 2.4 per cent, whereas the Scottish Government’s budget went up by 3.1 per cent over the same period.

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

Liz Smith

I will not, if Mr Gray does not mind, because we are very pushed for time today. Normally, I would. There will be budget debates next week.

Whatever understandable and very reasonable calls might be made in relation to other areas of Scottish Government funding, local government is finding the situation impossible. It has been short changed and severely disadvantaged.

There is a bigger picture here, too. The proportion of the local government budget that is ring fenced is now four times greater than it was three years ago. Added to that, of course, significant legislative commitments have been placed on local authorities because of the Scottish Government’s policy commitments. When we strip away those legislative commitments, in relation to which councils have no discretionary option, there is virtually nothing left over which they can have real autonomy, and that is one of the big complaints that COSLA is making.

We note that the Scottish Government’s argument for the extensive increase in ring fencing is that there is too great a variation in council performance. We do not need to point out that the relationship between the Scottish Government and councils is not particularly good at the moment, and how we mend that process is probably a debate for another day. However, I hope that the minister will understand that, for councils that are performing particularly well, the increase in ring fencing is an absolute slap in the face when it comes to how they carry out their business.

In April, councils will have some autonomy and freedom to set their own council tax rates without being obliged by the Scottish Government to keep to a particular cap. However,

“Every central government cut to council finance means a huge increase in council tax”.

Those are not my words—that was in the SNP manifesto not that long ago. I think that it was the same manifesto in which the SNP was claiming that it is Scotland’s oil; now, it does not seem to want that.

If councils are to address the underfunding, they will have to raise council tax—there is no other option. That is why we are calling for a different settlement and a procedure that allows agreement on that to be reached between the national Government and councils.

On 9 December 2021, when Kate Forbes presented her budget statement to Parliament, there was virtually no mention of local government despite the fact that local authorities are delivering so many critical services, which several members have referred to today. To many in this chamber and in local government, that speaks volumes about the Scottish Government’s disregard for local authorities not only now, but over a long period of time.

Local authorities are complaining not only about being underfunded and underresourced but about feeling—as Mark Griffin said—undervalued and constrained by the fact that they are increasingly tied to central Government. In other words, they feel that they are having to carry the can for central Government and for SNP policy failures. That is not fair, and that is why I support the motion in the name of Miles Briggs.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes the debate on protecting local government funding in Scotland. It is now time to move on to the next item of business. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.