Councils warn ‘something has to give’ amid Covid, Brexit and climate emergency


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COUNCIL bosses have warned that the climate emergency “could pose an even greater threat” than the pandemic amid calls for the economic model for local government to be overhauled.

Officials have also pleaded for help with the uncertainties around Brexit likely to “place enormous pressures on already stretched services and personnel” in local government.

The warning has been handed to MSPs in Holyrood’s local government committee in a joint submission by Cosla, the umbrella organisation for Scottish councils, along with directors of finance and chief executives of local authorities.

In the evidence, councils warn that the climate emergency means that authorities “should not have to choose between the economy and the environment”.

It adds: “Instead, we need an economic model which can deliver the improvement needed whilst also delivering fair and sustained growth.

“In order to properly address the challenges in the health and social care sector, the widening inequalities amongst vulnerable communities, the attainment needs of children across Scotland and the immediate threat of climate change – Scotland needs a bold new approach to the delivery and funding of public services.

“Local Government can no longer be disempowered and constrained by pots of inflexible, ring-fenced funding that is focused on output rather than local outcomes. Local Government, and indeed Scotland as a whole, cannot afford to go back to ‘normal’.”

Local authorities have also warned that Brexit, coupled with the Covid-19 crisis, will “place enormous pressure” on services already under pressure.

They added: “There is likely to be additional requirements on council services such as environmental health and trading standards, as well as increased demand for services for vulnerable communities.

“There is an imminent need therefore for the Scottish Government to revisit its national planning assumption for EU exit and for this to factor in the impact of Covid-19 on communities, businesses and the wider economy.”

Cosla’s resources spokesperson, Gail Macgregor, told MSPs that councils need “as much financial security as possible”.

She added: “I hate to use the term perfect storm but there’s a number of things happening at once. Obviously, the climate emergency is focusing minds as well, but it can’t be delivered without significant revenue and capital investment across the council.

“Brexit is coming over the hill as well. We’ve already got a little bit of additional funding for extra environmental health officers. Councils over many years, due to previous budget cuts, have had to take out staff in environmental health and trading standards so at a point where we now actually need them to assist with Covid, as well as Brexit coming down the line, that lack of staffing in those departments could have a detrimental effect.

“The reality is that for councils to plan to cope with Brexit, to enhance and mitigate against climate change and to deliver all the key services we do, we will require sufficient funding to do that.”

Last week, union bosses warned that Scottish councils face a £1 billion black hole in their finances.

Ms Macgregor added: “We’ve seen a real-terms decrease in the grant coming to budgets every single year for the last 10, 11 or 12 years and things don’t get any easier.

“One of the difficulties that we have is that an awful lot of what we do is ring-fenced. Some of it is ring-fenced for good reason, other parts are ring-fenced and it doesn’t give us the flexibility to utilise that funding.

“Bluntly, whether I’m looking to the Scottish Government or the UK Government, local government needs additional cash and I will look to both governments for that.

“We will work creatively and efficiently to make the money stretch to do the job that it needs to do, but if there isn’t sufficient funding in the pot then something has to give.”

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