Council cuts affecting ‘luxury’ public services

Council-run facilities such as Edinburgh's Museum of Childhood take a disproportionate hite, the study says. Picture: contributed

Council-run facilities such as Edinburgh's Museum of Childhood take a disproportionate hite, the study says. Picture: contributed

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Councils cuts across Scotland are proportionately hitting services most used by the rich, according to new research.

Researchers at the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice), Glasgow University and Heriot-Watt University studied the social impact of the forthcoming 2016/17 local government budget cuts by analysing council saving plans.

The report said the local government revenue settlement fell by £349 million in cash terms - down 3.6 per cent – in 2016-17. They calculated this means a reduction of £507 –down 5.2 per cent – in real terms once inflation is taken into account.

Researchers found more than two-thirds of council spending goes on services generally used by the poor or very poor, leaving local authorities “little option but to make most of their savings from services which are used more by lower income groups”.

However, the study found so-called pro-rich services – which included public car parks, museums and art galleries – were proportionately more affected by budget cuts than those classified as pro-poor services such as council-run public transport and older people’s social work.

A co-author of the report said the analysis shows councils are trying to “protect” services for low-income groups, but warned the strategy is not a “long-term solution”.

The largest area of council spending, 41 per cent, is on pro-poor services, according to the report, while only two oer cent goes on pro-rich services – but the rates of savings as a proportion of spending show pro-rich services took a larger hit in budget cuts at 12 per cent compared to two per cent for pro-poor services.

The most deprived councils are making 15 per cent of overall savings from services classified as most used by the very poor, such as children and family social work services, while for the least deprived councils savings were lowest in this area at ten per cent.

The rates of savings as a proportion of spending show the most deprived local authorities cut three per cent from services most used by the very poor compared to a five per cent cut for these services in the least deprived council areas.

Anne Hastings, professor for urban studies at Glasgow University who co-authored the report, said: “That the services used more by the rich are being cut at a higher rate is really quite interesting because it shows councils are trying to protect and shield low-income groups from the worst effects of the council cuts.

“Councils don’t have much wriggle room and this is not a solution. Social care and social work will not be able to withstand cuts of this magnitude continuing.”

She said the “danger” in cuts proportionately impacting services used more by the rich is that in the longer term they may come to see council services as not for them and question why they should pay for local government if services provided are solely for poorer people.

Andy Wightman, Scottish Greens’ local government spokesman, said the report showed the need to scrap the council tax and provide greater fiscal autonomy to local government.