Council leader welcomes budget decision

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Argyll and Bute Council’s leader has welcomed the Scottish Government’s decision to bring forward the date when its spending plans will be announced – but has warned that an increase in funding is still needed.

Councillor Aileen Morton was responding to the news that Scottish finance minister Derek Mackay has set a date of Thursday February 6 to announce the budget at Holyrood.

The council is due to set out its spending plans for 2020/21 three weeks later, but the process has been shrouded in uncertainty after the recent general election.

Further doubt was created by chancellor Sajid Javid’s announcement that the UK Government budget will be set on Thursday March 11 – the same day by which Scotland’s local authorities are legally required to agree their spending plans.

Councillor Morton said: ‘These are times of considerable challenge, not only for Scottish councils but also for the people who depend on the core services we provide, and the staff we employ to deliver them.

‘The Scottish Government’s decision to proceed with their Budget on February 6 helps to reduce uncertainty, but until we know the level of funding we will receive from the Scottish Government, we won’t really know what kind of budget we will be setting for Argyll and Bute.

‘As Audit Scotland made very clear in their report at the end of last year, local councils have faced substantial reductions in budgets in the last six years.

‘If our services are to continue in a recognisable form, and if local people are to receive the support they expect and deserve, then we need to see a real terms increase in our funding from the Scottish Government.’

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities [COSLA] had previously backed Mr Mackay’s announcement, having previously sought that he prioritised funding for Scottish councils.

COSLA president Alison Evison said: ‘I am extremely pleased the Scottish Government has listened and responded to calls from COSLA for an early Scottish budget.

‘I wrote last week to Mr Mackay highlighting that in these exceptional circumstances it is vital that all spheres of Government in Scotland work together to protect and support the essential services that local government provides every day to individuals, families and communities.’