Call for views on the financial sustainability of local government

The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee is looking for views on the long-term financial sustainability of local government to feed into its pre-budget work.

In its “call for evidence”, published in full on https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/112320.aspx, the Committee states: “Local authorities deliver a range of services, some of which are set by statute or by arrangements with the Scottish Government, and others at their own discretion depending on what local needs there are and what resources are available.

“Since the 2008 financial crisis, the total resources available to local authorities to deliver services have fallen in real terms and they have had to make savings.

“At the same time, the number of responsibilities placed on councils has increased and they are being asked to do ‘more with less’.

“Wider demographic changes – for instance an increase in the number of older people and population shifts, with some communities expanding and others contracting – present both risks and opportunities.

“Councils also have to contend with the uncertain impact of Brexit on local communities and local economies.

“The Committee is seeking to assess the long-term financial health of local authorities, within this challenging context and find out whether councils are well placed to continue to provide good local services into the next decade.

“This scrutiny will feed into recommendations the Committee will make later this year, as the Scottish Government finalises its 2020-21 budget plans.

“The Committee is particularly interested in hearing views on how local authorities can respond positively to current challenges and what practical steps they (and the Scottish Government) can take to help local authorities become ‘future proofed’ against foreseeable financial risks.

“We would like to hear of any approaches to enhanced financial sustainability that local authorities are using now and which they have found to be effective.

“Views are welcome from the local government sector itself and from any experts or individuals with an interest in local government and local services and with views about how best to ensure that the sector has a sustainable future.

The Committee is particularly interested for written submissions to address five key questions:

  1. What are the big medium-term (5-year) and longer-term (10+ year) financial challenges for Scottish local authorities?
  2. How effectively are councils addressing these challenges? Do councils currently have all the powers they need to do so?
  3. What practical steps should councils take, and what good practice should councils adopt, to plan for the medium and long-term and to anticipate financial risks?
  4. What alternative models of planning for, and delivering, council services could help local authorities make efficiency savings and/or deliver better services?
  5. Are there any other issues relating to the long-term sustainability of Scottish local government which you wish to bring to the attention of the Committee?

The closing date for receipt of submissions is Friday 23 August 2019.

The ‘facts and figures’ regarding Scottish Government and local Councils’ finances are of course ‘contested’, as readers who follow discussions on insideMORAY’s Facebook Group’s pages will be very aware.

It is difficult to compare ‘like-for-like’, as what Councils are asked to deliver with the money they raise has changed over time.

To help decision-makers and the wider public with this, the Scottish Parliament research department, SPICe, has published what it calls “a range of factual information around local government finance”, which is available on https://digitalpublications.parliament.scot/ResearchBriefings/Report/2019/7/2/Local-government-finance–facts-and-figures-2013-14-to-2019-20