Sturgeon spending fury: Scots face 50% council tax hike as SNP accused of ‘hoarding’ £770m

John Swinney discusses travel restrictions in Scotland

A report by Audit Scotland, an independent public body responsible for auditing the Scottish Government, found Scottish councils were £767 million short on cash to tackle the coronavirus crisis and urgently needed cash from the SNP led Scottish Government. Jackie Baillie MSP claimed £800million of funding awarded to Scotland by the UK Government was being held back by the SNP led administration.

Speaking in Holyrood today, she asked Deputy First Minister John Swinney: “Today we hear from Audit Scotland that councils have a staggering budget gap of £767 million as a result of Covid.

“Can the Deputy First Minister tell me therefore why the government is sitting on £800 million of unspent money from the UK government for COVID-related expenditure?

“Why is this not being allocated to help struggling families home-school their children?

“And why is the SNP not putting our children’s education and wellbeing at the very top of the agenda?”

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The Audit Scotland report published today warned the SNP led administration Scotland’s councils face significant pressures due to COVID-19 and could be forced to cut back essential services.

The report said: “This includes substantial and ongoing reductions in income, increased costs and the administration of business support grants and other measures of support to their communities during COVID-19.”

COSLA, the body which represents Scottish local authorities has urged the Scottish Government to remove a cap on council tax allowing them to charge Scots however much they like because of the lack of cash from the Scottish Government.

A COSLA briefing document warned Scots they may face council tax increases of up to “50 percent” if the SNP led administration doesn’t hand over further funding.

It stressed, “given the initial forecasts from Local Authorities it would require a Council Tax increase in 2021/22 in excess of 50 percent.”

Annie Wells MSP, the Scottish Conservative spokesperson for Local Government, said: “The COVID pandemic has only heightened the pressure on councils and the SNP must use this weeks’ budget to give them a fair funding deal once and for all.”

Cllr Jim Longue, Labour leader of North Lanarkshire Council, said: “The SNP are fond of comparing themselves to other countries and quick to shout when they appear to be more generous than their English counterparts.

“So they will surely be concerned that on this occasion, our Welsh colleagues are well ahead of them when it comes to funding local services.

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“It’s time to stop the excuses – this year of all years.”

Scottish Labour MSP Sarah Boyack, added: “Make no mistake, Scotland’s local authorities are on their knees.

“With the pandemic hitting councils in the pocket to the tune of £767 million, it is simply unthinkable that the SNP continues on its course of underfunding local government.”

Whitehall also said the Scottish Government has received £8.6 billion for their COVID response.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said the SNP led administration to acknowledge the UK Government’s “Union” help and pass on the money as soon as possible to local councils.

In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “When the 2019-20 local government finance settlement was set, the Scottish Government’s resource budget from the UK Government – excluding health – was 7.8 per cent lower in real terms compared to 2013-14.

“The Scottish Government remains committed to passing on every penny of additional health resource from the UK Government which has a direct impact on all other areas of the Scottish Budget.

“Despite a decade of UK Government austerity measures, Scotland’s local authorities have enjoyed a cash-terms revenue budget increase of 3.6 per cent over the period 2013-20.

“English local authorities have faced a cash-terms revenue budget reduction of 14.7 per cent over the same period, equivalent to a real-terms reduction of 22.8 per cent.

“The pre-Covid-19 2020-21 settlement of £11.4 billion, provided a real terms increase in local government day to day spending for local revenue service’s 3.9 per cent.”

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