Accounts Commission calls for long-term financial support for councils
Addressing the issue of longer-term financial certainty for councils is vital for the Scottish Government to ensure services are maintained and that councils can tackle the multiple challenges ahead, the Accounts Commission said today.
In its Local Government Overview 2021 report, the watchdog, which reports to the public on the performance of local government, said Scotland’s councils reacted quickly, working alongside communities and partners, to address the unprecedented challenges created by Covid-19. But it warned that many of those challenges remain “significant”, made more urgent by the multiple impacts of Covid-19 on communities and services.
Emphasising the critical role councils have in providing vital services which communities depend on, the Commission made clear that councils, alongside their partners, quickly provided innovative and sustained support to vulnerable people. This included supporting those who were shielding or self-isolating, switching to delivering services digitally and managing significant funding to support local businesses.
With many council services disrupted, stopped or reduced, in particular education, social care and culture and leisure, the impact on some service users was severe and unequal. This included carers who lacked access to respite care, people with learning disabilities who were unable to access critical services and support, those receiving care at home and school children whose education was disrupted.
Covid-19 has also exacerbated and laid bare fundamental issues that need to be addressed to ensure services are maintained and that councils can tackle the multiple challenges ahead, the report said. To help achieve this, the Commission said longer-term financial certainty for councils will be “vital”.
Whilst the Scottish Government has provided significant financial support to councils to assist in managing the net cost of Covid-19 in 2020/21, considerable amounts of funding took the form of one-off payments. Furthermore, funding for councils beyond 2021/22 remains uncertain, it added.
Elma Murray, interim chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “Councils, communities and their partners have worked incredibly hard to continue to deliver vital services to local people. The stark reality is that some council services won’t restart, and some services will have to be delivered differently.
“Underpinning this is the increasingly urgent need to address inequalities throughout Scotland’s communities. And for councils this is made more challenging because they continue to operate in a climate of significant financial uncertainty, which must now be addressed.”