Scotland’s councils have done a very good job in delivering essential services for their communities in light of increased demand for services. They are very aware, however, of the increasing challenges ahead as budget pressures begin to bite, as a new report highlights.
These and other findings are contained in the Local Government Benchmarking Framework published by the Improvement Service today (Wednesday). The LGBF represents a joint commitment by SOLACE (Scotland) and COSLA to develop better measurement and comparable data to target resources and drive improvements.
The data released by the Improvement Service also shows that whilst up until now the system has been coping well under pressure it is now starting to show some real signs of stress.
The Local Government Benchmarking Report highlights that across the last eight-year period for which data is presented, total revenue funding for councils has fallen by 8.3% in real terms from £10.5 billion to £9.6 billion. According to the Accounts Commission, in its Local Government in Scotland Financial Overview 2017/18, this downward trend in funding is likely to continue in the medium term.
Despite overall reductions in revenue, spending on education and care has been relatively protected over this period. There has been measurable improvement in these areas since 2010-11:
However, as these two areas account for over 70% of the benchmarked expenditure within the LGBF, most other service areas have experienced substantial real reductions in spending:
Commenting, COSLA President Councillor Alison Evison, who also chairs the Improvement Service Board, said: “Today’s report shows that once again Scottish local government has risen to the challenge and done a remarkable job in difficult circumstances.
“The problem now is that, as the report identifies, this will become increasingly difficult as budget cuts over a number of years begin to bite.
“What councils are continuing to achieve for communities is impressive considering the financial challenges we face – but obviously as today’s report clearly shows this is simply unsustainable in the longer term."
The National Benchmarking Overview Report is available at www.improvementservice.org.uk/documents/benchmarking/overviewreport1718.pdf.
Data for every Scottish council is available at www.improvementservice.org.uk/benchmarking/explore-the-data.html