COUNCIL leaders have warned the “poverty gap in Scotland will continue to grow” unless more cash can be found for local government as part of Holyrood’s Budget process.

Finance Secretary Shona Robison (below) has insisted the draft Budget for 2024-25 shows the Scottish Government is “supporting public services, including those delivered by councils” with a record funding settlement for local government of more than £14 billion.

The National: Shona Robison

This includes £140 million to compensate local authorities for freezing council tax next year – with Robison saying the overall funding package is up on the current year.

But councils had been seeking a minimum of £300m to cover the cost of keeping council tax bills unchanged, and with MSPs still to vote on whether to approve the Budget, local government body Cosla warned that as the funding currently stands, “communities will see and feel a range of negative impacts”.

Local authority leaders discussed the proposed funding settlement at a special meeting just before Christmas, in the wake of Robison’s Budget statement to Holyrood on December 19.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Cosla said there was “dismay and frustration from Scotland’s council leaders about the way local government and the communities we represent had been treated”.

Cosla, which represents all 32 of Scotland’s councils, has now written to Robison raising its concerns and its president Shona Morrison, an SNP councillor in Moray, is seeking an urgent meeting with her.

The Verity House Agreement signed between councils and the Scottish Government after Humza Yousaf became First Minister has a focus on tackling poverty, but Cosla warned the Budget settlement is “disappointing” and will mean its preventative work will have to be “limited severely”.

'Council services will be further eroded'

Cosla said: “Specifically on poverty, the Budget should have had a focus on tackling the root causes of poverty, particularly its impacts on children.

“This would have needed a greater prioritisation of the work councils do in prevention and early support.”

It added the “essential social supports” provided by councils to struggling families will be “further eroded”, adding: “This has been the case for a number of years now, due to poor local government settlements that cut core funding.”

READ MORE: Cuts will mean job losses and stretch councils to 'breaking point', Cosla says

Meanwhile services to help children and young people in care, as part of a commitment made by the Scottish Government known as The Promise, will also now be “under threat as a result of the proposed Scottish Budget”, Cosla said.

The Cosla statement continued: “Tackling poverty in Scotland will continue to be a significant challenge when councils do not have the resources they need to support communities.

“This year’s Budget presented the opportunity to prioritise prevention and tackle inequity, to invest in communities and realise our ambitions to end poverty in Scotland.

“It did not deliver. Without a fair settlement for councils, the poverty gap in Scotland will continue to grow. Investing in local government is key to a fairer Scotland.”

The National: Humza Yousaf

It added that the council tax freeze – announced by Yousaf (above) without first consulting local government – means money which could have been used to help tackle poverty is “lost”, with ministers “missing a real opportunity to unlock councils’ potential” in this area.

Call for 'urgent meeting' 

Cosla said Morrison, along with its vice-president Steven Heddle and political group leaders from all parties, have written to Robison and “are seeking an urgent meeting”.

The organisation added: “Council leaders will not let this lie, they simply cannot afford to because it will have such a detrimental impact on the communities they represent.”

READ MORE: Kate Forbes highlights 'brutal' impact of Westminster cuts on Scottish Budget

Robison said: “The Scottish Budget includes record funding of over £14bn for councils in 2024-25 – a real-terms increase of 4.3% compared with this year’s Budget – should they agree to freeze council tax.

“The Budget also increases the Scottish child payment in line with inflation to £26.70 a week. This payment is not available anywhere else in the UK and it’s available because we’re prioritising lifting children out of poverty, despite constrained resources.

“Modelling estimates that an estimated 90,000 fewer children are expected to live in relative and absolute poverty this year as a result of Scottish Government policies, with poverty levels nine percentage points lower than they would have otherwise been.

“The Scottish Government is happy to meet with Cosla to discuss their concerns.”