Scots councils maintain service improvement in face of funding cuts

13 Feb 18

Scottish councils have been praised for “substantial improvements” in efficiency, innovation and productivity despite the real-terms squeeze in local government funding.

The annual report for the Scottish Local Government Benchmarking Framework found that service levels had largely been maintained or improved, in spite of a fall in total revenue funding of 7.6% in real terms from £10.5bn to £9.7bn over the last seven years.

Education services continued to show positive progress overall, it said, with children from the most deprived areas doing especially well, which showed the value of councils’ holistic approach to children’s services.

The increased use of libraries, museums and leisure facilities coupled with reduced costs provided evidence of positive service transformation, it added.

Non-statutory services had been hardest hit in council budgets, as spending on education, social care and child protection – which together account for 70% of benchmarked expenditure – had been protected. Expenditure on planning had fallen by almost a third in real terms, roads by a fifth and culture and leisure services by 17%.   

The report, published by the Improvement Service, warned that expenditure trends to date had been underpinned by use of reserves and the public sector wage cap, which meant improvement could not be taken for granted in future years. It also stressed that the sustainability of some services would be increasingly dependent on the ability of councils and their partners to address underlying demand.

Alison Evison, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and chair of the Improvement Service board, said the report showed cuts to local government had “really started to bite”, particularly in non-statutory services.

“Local government cannot continue to be the poor relation of the public sector and the fact that roads spending is down 20% will not have gone unnoticed,” she said.

Evison praised councils for continuing to deliver for local communities in spite of the financial challenges they faced.

“It is particularly pleasing that…councils and schools are closing the attainment gap,” she said.

“There are however still major inequalities in attainment between the most deprived pupils and others.

“Continuing reform and improvement is essential, but it is critical to ensure that continued reform does not disrupt the stable and consistent improvement trend already there.”

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