One of the north-east’s most senior councillors has called on parties to make local government a priority – and admitted she is “disappointed” by the lack of attention it has received in the run-up to next month’s election.
Aberdeenshire councillor Alison Evison is president of Cosla, the association which represents all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.
The North Kincardine representative urged the main political parties to prioritise local government as voters prepare to go to the polls on May 6, describing councils as “the anchor in our communities”.
Ms Evison, who is a Scottish Labour councillor, said it was “disappointing” leaders had made little mention of the issue while on the campaign trail.
“Local government is the anchor in our communities with a committed workforce who are invested in their communities and take pride in supporting people through good times and bad,” she added.
“We run the nurseries and schools that educate our young people and help build them into confident young people.
“Care of the elderly and vulnerable within our communities has never been more important and again it is councils who rise to meet this challenge. Our waste collection/disposal service keeps our communities clean and removes potential hazards. If it hadn’t continued during the pandemic we would have all suffered.
“We help individuals and businesses in times of crisis, often when there is no one else to turn to and again this is something that was highlighted during the pandemic.
“It is also important to look at how we help with the health of the nation. It should not be forgotten how much we support the health service – be that with gritting roads and pavements or running sport and leisure facilities. We are also responsible for services that help address isolation and mental health.
“In terms of our economic impact, councils are often the biggest single employer in most parts of Scotland, mostly employing people from within their own council area who have local knowledge. This means we have employees on the ground, ready, skilled and able to deal with emergency or crisis issues on, if necessary, a street by street basis.
“Councils have been instrumental in supporting business throughout this crisis and will be crucial as we look to rebuild an economy fit for the future.
“The new parliament provides the opportunity for parties to put people and communities at the heart of their manifestos through local government and the vital services we deliver.”
The SNP insisted it is “committed to ensuring our local councils receive a fair share of funding” to allow them to recover from the pandemic.
Audrey Nicoll, the party’s candidate for Aberdeen South and North Kincardine, added: “In the Scottish Government’s budget for 2021/22 we will provide councils with a settlement of almost £11.7 billion, a settlement that is both fair and affordable and includes funds to support the council tax freeze.
“Scottish councils have had a cash-terms increase to their budgets of 3.6%, whereas councils in England have experienced a cash-terms reduction of 14.7%.
“The SNP government supported councils with £1.8 billion to help our local authorities over this year and next. Amongst will be £249 million to make up for lost revenue from sales, fees and charges caused by the pandemic.
“Our manifesto has pledged to help councils ensure everyone has a safe home to live in by building 100,000 homes in the next decade. We have also committed to a citizens assembly to establish a council tax system that is fairer.”
Meanwhile, the Conservatives have pledged to launch a “Communities Bill” which they say will “guarantee a fair funding deal” for local authorities if they form the next Scottish Government.
Aberdeenshire West candidate Alexander Burnett said: “Our councils have been on the front line during the pandemic, providing essential services that have kept the country going.
“But they are facing a budget shortfall of £511 million as a result of Covid.
“And this year alone, the SNP gave north-east councils more than £140 million less for public services than the Scottish average — less for our roads, buses, schools, and health and social care.
“Cosla is right to emphasise local government’s role in the recovery and that is why it’s a key part of the Scottish Conservative manifesto.”
Scottish Labour’s local government spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said: “The crucial role local authorities play in Scotland has been clearer than ever during the pandemic.
“Despite 14 years of centralisation and a billion pounds’ worth of cuts to their budgets, Local Authorities more than stepped up to the challenge.
“Local authorities will also be at the heart of our recovery, and all parties should recognise that.
“Scottish Labour are determined to end the years of neglect local government has faced and ensure it has both the powers and the resources it needs to build strong communities.”
Rosemary Bruce, the Liberal Democrats’ lead candidate for the north-east, said: “Good decisions about local services are best made locally, with democratic local authorities given the power to act in the best interests of the communities they serve. Local government in Scotland has suffered from centralisation and loss of control.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats will strengthen local governance in partnership with local councils, recognising that reform has stalled under the current government.
“To do that we will develop a fiscal framework with local government that recognises the important work that local councils do, the freedoms they need to innovate and serve their communities, and their need for a fair share of Scottish Government resources.
“We will give back to councils the powers to set local domestic and business taxation, and remove the financial penalties used by the present government to exert control.
“This will give local councils control of more than half of their revenues and give them a real stake in economic progress. That’s the best way to put the recovery first at every level of governance.”