Protests are erupting locally and nationally about the impact of the Scottish Budget on local councils.

WI Council Tax debate

In Stornoway, SNP Councillors are fighting to stop an increase in Council Tax. Island residents should not face a Council Tax rise while the Comhairle sits on large underspends says the SNP Group at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar who are making efforts this week to prevent the planned increase.

As part of the Budget Setting process at this week's meetings, Councillors are being asked to approve the proposal to increase Council Tax by nearly five percent.

The SNP Group say the Council Tax increase will cause financial pain to island families and instead they propose that the current level is retained for the 2020/21 financial year.

To meet the financial implications of retaining the current level, they propose that the Comhairle uses £3.1m of balances and £880,000 of reserves with the level of retained reserves being set at £2.62m.

SNP Group Leader Gordon Murray said: “We do not think it is right to ask families to pay more when the council have underspent their budgets and are sitting on large reserves.”

The SNP Group are also proposing an additional £80,000 is made available to the Integration Joint Board (IJB) for the purpose of providing dental services at Sacred Heart Care Home, Daliburgh, South Uist. In the event that the IJB do not to agree to provide dental services at Daliburgh that the allocation be retained by the Comhairle.

In addition they are proposing that at additional £100,000 is made available to the IJB to provide funding support to Bethesda Hospice. If IJB do not agree to provide funding to Bethesda Hospice that the funding allocation be retained by the Comhairle.

Cllr Murray stated: “These issues are hugely important to our communities and we wish to help these valuable services.

“I hope this amendment will get support from other councillors rather than hitting our communities with another maximum council tax rise which is unfair. Giving support in resources to Bethesda hospice and dental services in South Uist is hugely important to the group and the communities across the islands.”

Scottish Labour warning

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour warns debt will continue to soar without taking action on the budget. Scottish Labour says the SNP must curb the rising debt local authorities are facing ahead of Thursday’s draft budget vote.

The warning from Scottish Labour comes as it was revealed earlier that the total deficit shared by councils in Scotland was £18,214 million at the end of March 2019. That figure is an increase of 3.8 per cent on the previous financial year.

Since 2013, the amount of revenue funding available to local authorities has decreased at a faster rate than the SNP’s budget. As a result, councils have seen a real terms revenue budget cut of seven per cent between 2013-14 and 2019-20, while the Scottish Government’s total revenue budget has reduced by 2 per cent.

Meanwhile, the commitments that local authorities have been required to deliver by the SNP government continue to grow year on year. We already know that for 2020-21, there are £590 million of new commitments that councils will have to deliver in addition to their responsibilities over the last year.

Scottish Labour’s local government spokesperson Sarah Boyack, said: “The reality is that under the SNP, vital services have been pushed to breaking point. Councils are under more pressure each year to find savings by reducing services.

“The SNP cannot keep squeezing our local authorities dry – without immediate investment our communities will see more cuts as councils struggle to keep up with demand. Scottish Labour is calling for the SNP to increase local government funding in this year’s budget and stop adding fuel to the fire of Tory austerity.

“This is not a time to continue with the status quo. This is the time to start properly funding our community services.”