For most people December means Christmas. For MSPs, however, it brings the Scottish budget. While he tries to present his figures as generous handouts, Derek Mackay has been more Scrooge than Santa.
Since 2013 alone, more than £400 million has been taken out of local services by the SNP. Public finances are of course limited, but the Scottish Budget as a whole was flat over the same period. The SNP has repeatedly slashed council budgets to balance their books.
It’s against this backdrop that we had the absurdity of the SNP leader of Edinburgh City Council, Adam McVey, applying to Derek Mackay for more funds. Yet, rather than standing up for his city, a timid letter was sent begging for a little extra cash to upgrade one school.
This wilfully ignores what is happening. Edinburgh now has the most poorly-funded budget, £1443 per person, a quarter less than other Scottish cities. It represents a cut double that of the Scottish average since 2013.
Council tax accounts for less than a fifth of the council’s budget, so this cut in central funding is nothing short of devastating.
The consequences are brutal. In this city and in councils across Scotland, it is increasingly the case that only statutorily required services are being provided and even those are severely under-resourced. That is leading to children with additional support needs not receiving the support they need. Class sizes on the rise. Social care set to be further cut by £3 million.
Over the last year, when faced with criticism of SNP cuts to local councils, Derek Mackay has claimed that total funding available to councils has increased. But increases to council tax has been used to offset cuts in the central government grant.It also completely overlooks cuts in previous years.
It’s a little like your boss claiming he is giving you a pay rise because you could get an evening job. It’s dishonest, especially when the SNP had railed for years against the unfairness of the council tax and had effectively banned councils from increasing it. It is particularly galling when he refused to use the tax raising powers in the last budget.
This is a double standard, pure and simple. After a decade in government in Scotland, local services are on their knees. Their choices are causing misery to those who need help the most. Derek Mackay and Nicola Sturgeon’s choices mean that this city and many others are struggling to do the basics, like emptying the bins.
When the coalition running this city was formed earlier this year, it was done on a promise of no cuts. To honour this, Cllr McVey needs to do a little better than writing begging notes for small bits of extra funding.
Edinburgh needs someone who will call out the cuts the SNP Government have made – not apologists for cuts to the most fundamental and basic services our communities rely on.
Daniel Johnson is the Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern.