Scots councils face 'toughest budgets in decades'

comp pic of council services A range of council services could be hit by the cuts

Scotland's councils have warned they are facing the toughest budgets they have seen in decades.

Millions will be slashed as the UK government warned its top priority is to tackle the £150bn plus deficit.

Local authority umbrella group Cosla believes the 32 Scottish councils will see a 12% real terms reduction in funding over the next three years.

The concerns came in a BBC Scotland survey of every local authority on their future spending plans.

Councils have predicted they may have to make total savings of almost £900m over the next two-to-three years.

map of scotland

A BBC Scotland news special examining the cuts to council budgets

To millions of Scots, facilities such as a council-run local library, museum or swimming pool are a highly treasured resource - but could that be a thing of the past?

Many of us benefit from services at either no extra or a small additional cost, from school music lessons for our children to more vital care provision - but how high will charges increase in future?

Even vital services, such as education, are facing cutbacks.

As Prime Minister David Cameron warned in his speech to the Tory conference: "Jobs will be lost and programmes cut."

Ahead of Chancellor George Osborne's Spending Review on 20 October, BBC Scotland asked the councils a range of questions on their budgets for the next few years.

Many have known that severe spending cuts have been on the cards for a while, but as one local authority warned, "the scale of them are unprecedented".

So by how much do councils think their budgets will reduce?

Glasgow City, Scotland's largest local authority, reckons it has to save £115m over the next few years, while one of the smallest, Stirling, estimates it will have £23m less to spend.

In terms of saving cash, there is one option at the top of the priority list for virtually all councils - job cuts.

Spending review branding

A special BBC News season examining the approaching cuts to public sector spending

This area is the single largest cost they can control, and reductions are being achieved through voluntary redundancy, early retirement and recruitment freezes.

Councils have avoided talk of compulsory jobs cuts, but the spectre of such a move is always there.

So what about other services? Opening times for some leisure and recreation facilities have been cut, charges are being brought in for several services - and one council is already saving cash by dimming streetlights at night.

In terms of "frontline" services, schools are closing - although the authorities which have gone down this route cite low pupil numbers and old buildings which are beyond repair as deciding factors.

As well as the cuts themselves, there is the issue of council tax - which has been frozen each year since the SNP came to power, in 2007.

The Scottish government sold this centrally-funded deal to local authorities on the premise the move would help hard-pressed families.

But that is now being questioned by some council leaders - Glasgow, which has frozen council tax since 2006, argues authorities should be able to raise it again without losing government money.

All the indications are, though, that the freeze will continue for another year.

The Scottish government, and councils in turn, are funded through a block grant for the UK Treasury - so only when the Chancellor delivers his spending review will the true scale of the cuts become known.

In the meantime, the message councils are striving to deliver about their services is much like the streetlights - they may not burn as brightly as before, but they will still be there.

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