Scotland politics

Biggest Scottish councils have to make £150m in savings

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Media captionA number of councils in Scotland are proposing cuts to their education services to meet budget savings

Some of Scotland's biggest councils will have to save at least £150m between them next year, according to figures collated by BBC Scotland.

But many have warned this is a drop in the ocean compared to how much they will need to save in the future.

Councils are currently working out what cuts in spending to make next year to balance their books.

Most will reach their final decisions in February.

One of the biggest budget consultations is in Highland, which faces distinctive challenges.

Staff redundancies

The council covers a land mass the size of Belgium but the area is also sparsely populated.

The Highland Council is currently considering £15m worth of cuts and savings - but said it would need to reduce its spending by nearly £50m more by 2018-19.

It has asked the public how they feel about several options, including cutting the amount of time some primary school children spend with a teacher as well as reductions in the amount spent on roads, public toilets and bin collections.

Up to 1,000 staff may be made redundant across the region in the next few years.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Highland Council has proposed shortening primary school pupils' time at school by 30 minutes

Scotland's largest council - Glasgow - is looking at £28m of savings next year with more to follow, while Edinburgh's total for next year comes to £22m.

West Lothian said it would need to save £11m next year and £30m over the next few years.

Leader of West Lothian Council, John McGinty, said: "West Lothian Council is projecting a budget gap of £30.4m over the next three years. In 2015/16 alone the council faces a gap of almost £11m.

"The magnitude of the challenge faced in delivering essential services whilst financial resources are limited, means that the council has had to adopt an approach that allows the council to focus on the years ahead and meet its legal duty to balance the budget every year."

Funding deal

Although most councils have cut their staff number gradually in recent years, and anticipate having fewer employees in the future, compulsory redundancies have so far been few and far between.

The overall majority of jobs have gone as people have left naturally, retired or taken voluntary redundancy deals.

Scottish councils get about 80p of every pound they spend, from the Scottish government.

Most of the rest is from the council tax. It has not increased since 2007 and the terms of the local government funding deal make it all but impossible to put the tax up.

Only a small proportion of council cash comes from charges for using services or bus lane fines.

The total amount being given to Scottish councils by the government is actually due to rise next year from £10.6bn to £10.8bn.

Image copyright Glasgow City Council
Image caption Glasgow City Council is looking at £28m of savings next year, with more to follow

But councils - which are under a legal duty to balance their budgets - need to factor in inflation and the rising demand for some services before they can work out how much they have to spend in practice.

A commission established by local government body Cosla on strengthening local democracy recently argued councils should be responsible for raising a far greater proportion of their budgets.

Research for the commission also suggested many people would be prepared to pay more council tax as long as they could see the benefits.

The vice convener of Highland Council, Maxine Smith of the SNP, said she believed the Scottish government was doing the best it could for councils in a tough environment and blamed Westminster for the cuts.

Some of the government's critics claimed the council tax freeze increasingly amounts to a "middle class benefit" as it helps better off people who might pay more in council tax but make relatively little use of council services - while, critics argue, those who rely most on the services are saving relatively small amounts but being affected by the cuts.

The Scottish government argues the freeze is a real benefit to people on lower incomes whose incomes have been hit.

The UK government has argued that cutting spending to help reduce the UK budget deficit is vital.

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