Scottish local councils face 'tough spending decisions'

Councils may have to reintroduce proposals they previously ruled out as they try to balance their budgets, according to the Accounts Commission.

Scotland's public sector watchdog said most councils had predicted substantial funding gaps over the next three years.

It said the 32 local authorities would need to do more with fewer resources.

Last month, councils voted through their spending plans, which could see millions of pounds worth of cuts to services and job losses.

In response to a report by public spending scrutiny body Audit Scotland, the Accounts Commission said councils would continue to face tough challenges.

Chairman John Baillie said: "They have coped well with the financial pressures of recent years but these pressures are not abating.

"They need to continue to review existing services as well as identifying fresh ways of providing them; working with their partners, sharing skills and resources and keeping close tabs on budgets to ensure every pound is spent wisely."

Councillor Michael Cook, vice-president of Cosla, said councils were already rising to the challenge and finding new ways of doing more with less.

He added: "Nevertheless, in order to balance budgets, many will be under increasing pressure to consider difficult decisions which they had previously ruled out."

A Scottish government spokesman said that since 2007 it had increased the share of its overall budget available to councils.

He said: "The strong course set by the Scottish government's reform approach will enable local government to improve the outcomes that people and communities want to see, as well as reducing demand for their services."

The report also highlighted other challenges facing councils this coming year, including the potential implications of welfare reform.

Changes in police and fire services and plans to integrate health and social care are among other changes to be dealt with by councils.

A Scottish government spokesman said the report recognised the "pressures that the UK government's welfare reforms place on local and central government in Scotland, and the measures that we have put in place to work with local government to mitigate those."

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