The big surprise from the Chancellor’s autumn statement is that the Scottish budget has been relatively protected from some fairly strong cuts to local authorities in England.
This has the potential to make even basic social care services impossible in England unless some of this finance is compensated for. There is already a squeeze on council finances, and third sector organisations delivering public services for local authorities are often the first in line to get the chop.
Relief that Chancellor has decided not to raid Big Lottery Fund which supports many frontline third sector projects
The chancellor has made provision for local authorities in England to plug some of the gaps in their cuts by allowing them to increase council taxes by up to 2%, specifically to cover social care costs. Scottish local authorities, however, cannot use this mechanism as their finance is devolved and subject to a council tax freeze by Scottish Government.
We were surprised to see that the Scottish budget will reduce, taking into account inflation, by a modest 1.3% per year to 2020. This means the situation in Scotland will not be nearly as bad as for our colleagues in England.
The reason for this relative protection is that the cuts in England appear to have been offset by the Chancellor’s increases in budgets for health and policing. These are both devolved areas, so the overall pot apportioned for Scotland by the Barnett formula stays the same.
Unless Scottish ministers decide to match the approach taken by the Chancellor, they have more leeway to maintain the current budget positions for social care and devolved services.
However, even if safe from the deeper cuts, the situation is not rosy, as many local authorities are finding themselves cutting ‘non-essential’ services. Alongside Christmas lights, libraries and art galleries, this inevitably involves cuts to grants for many frontline voluntary sector projects.
It is therefore a relief that the chancellor has decided not to raid Big Lottery Fundgood cause cash which supports many frontline third sector projects.
And by withdrawing from his upfront cuts to tax credits, many of our sector service organisations will be saved from a tsunami of demand from low paid vulnerable citizens pushed over the edge.
Here is a list of highlights from the more specialist coverage we’ve picked out for exploring the budget announcement in more detail: