In the build-up to the SNP Government’s 2018/19 budget statement Daniel Johnson MSP published an article in the Evening News which explained how since 2013 the SNP Government had taken over £400m out of local government finances despite having received a broadly flat settlement from the UK Government over the same period.
This is why our roads our potholed, why bins go uncollected and why Edinburgh has a huge building maintence backlog. Indeed, the situation in Edinburgh is worse than elsewhere. Our Capital now has the most poorly-funded budget, £1443 per person, 25% less than other Scottish cities. It represents a cut double that of the Scottish average since 2013.
In the build up to the SNP Government’s budget, the Council had been briefed to expect a cut of £30m and planned on that basis. Reducing library hours was discussed alongside plans ranging from charging for garden waste collection to cuttting home to school transport.
When Derek McKay’s budget was published, however, the cut was less than expected – £12.2m. He did, however maintain the trend of cutting Edinburgh more than the national average – 10% more to be precise.
I am, of course, grateful that the cut was less than feared.
In addition, however, the budget came with a big catch – unfunded pay rises (£2.2m). In addition to this, we have to set aside money to start dealing with the huge building maintenance backlog (£9m), inflationary pressures on rent (£1m) and changes to social care (£2m). This means that even with reluctantly increasing Council Tax by 3% and without accounting for rising demand in services, we are looking at a black hole of £26.4m.
Of course, this is just a draft budget and the SNP is a minority government. The days of the SNP doing deals with the Tories have passed, so we can now expect the nationalists to seek support from the Lib-Dems or the Greens if they are to set a budget.
Tribalism in the SNP ranks means that they are unlikely to do a deal with Labour. In any event, Richard Leonard is unlikely to accept SNP tax policy without significant change.
The Greens and Lib-Dems, however, may be willing to tinker and seek more funding to help protect local services. This won’t deliver the real change for the many that we need, but it may be enough to the reduce the impact of the SNP’s attack on our Capital.