THE budget stand-off between the city council and the Scottish Government will leave many people worried about what next year will hold for our public services.
What impact will an extra £15 million of cuts – on top of an already planned £60m – have on our schools and the care of the elderly? What about the services the city provides for our most vulnerable citizens such as children in care? The answer is not yet clear beyond the fact that the chances of any of the proposed cuts already outlined being rolled back are now all but gone.
Savvy politicians always leave themselves wriggle room when they present budget proposals to allow themselves the chance to reverse at least one or two of the most unpopular. Any wriggle room that existed has now gone. Reversing any cuts, such as ending free musical instrument tuition in schools, will have to be funded by alternative cuts elsewhere.
The huge level of concern at the City Chambers is clear in the words of the council’s SNP group leader Sandy Howat who warns “everyone will be hurt” by these “very damaging” cuts. You expect words like these from a Labour council leader, but criticism like this of the SNP government from within its own party is rare.
There is no doubt that local authorities across Scotland are being increasingly drained of cash by the on-going council tax freeze. However, the cuts imposed have been nothing like as deep as those faced by councils in England, where reform of local services has been far more radical and far faster. There is certainly scope for much more to be done to make our local councils leaner and more efficient, although that will be difficult to achieve in the short space of time now left. The city’s main hope is that finance minister John Swinney has left himself some wriggle room to pull a last-minute rabbit out of the hat.