Cosla's Commission on Local Government
23 October 2013
Cosla has taken the unprecedented step of setting up a Commission on Local Government.
Cosla President Councillor David O’Neill believes that the Commission will give people the opportunity to debate about local services that councils provide that the wider community depend upon their cost and their quality.
The financing of local government will figure in the Commission’s work.
Over recent years, we have seen local government powers being taken away by the Scottish Government leaving councils with little or no power to decide upon or develop services in their areas.
Any council that fails to freeze its council tax will have its grant cut by the Scottish Government which means that there is even less money for the council to spend on council services.
Therefore, Councils have no alternative but to comply.
Whilst the Scottish Government has imposed a Council Tax freeze, they have never offered any additional funding to Local Authorities to assist them meet growing local demands in areas (in Dundee’s case) such as elderly and children’s services.
The Scottish Government try to claim all the political credit for the council tax freeze and at the same time they seek to deflect public anger by openly criticising local authorities - despite having given less money in real terms to deliver services.
The council tax freeze is set to continue till 2016, although many in local government believe that the Council Tax freeze is not sustainable and that it is being driven by the political agenda set by next year’s independence Referendum.
Whilst no-one wishes to see an increase in our household bills, local government must be properly funded to meet the needs of its citizens.
I am certain this case will be made strongly to COSLA’s Commission.
Dundee City Council, I hope, will make a strong submission to the COSLA Commission currently being undertaken as I believe Dundee is in a particularly bad financial position as highlighted by the Auditors, KPMG, in a recent Report to Council when they suggested that Dundee has the lowest level of General Fund Balances of all 32 Local Authorities.
The Administration in Dundee look to be living beyond its means.
Perhaps some of their ambitious capital plans will need to be scaled back or the Leader of the Administration must go cap in hand to the Scottish Government for additional support for Dundee.
Next year, the Administration will have to come up with proposals cutting services by £8.5million for a standstill budget and at the same time they will need to cut deeper so as to increase the General Fund Balance to an acceptable level.
I hope the Administration will bring forward their budget proposals early enough to be properly scrutinised by the public.
I know that whilst they will not wish to see the Council Tax increased they have written to the owners of former Council properties advising them of Factoring Agreements and whilst this would not be seen as breaching the Council Tax Freeze Agreements with the Scottish Government, individuals may see their household bills increase.