The impact of COVID19 on the financial sustainability of local government in Scotland.

Closes 4 Sep 2020

Opened 23 Jul 2020

Overview

The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee wants to hear your views on the impact of COVID-19 on the financial sustainability of local government in Scotland.

We would welcome your views to the questions posed below by Friday 4 September.

Council services

Local authorities arrange or deliver a huge range of important services that are an everyday but crucial part of our daily lives; from social care and public libraries to planning and street cleaning. These services can be “statutory” - delivered because they are required under written laws. They can be delivered because councils have collectively reached agreements with the Scottish Government to do certain things, usually in return for funding for these. Or they could be “discretionary” - delivered because a council thinks they are a priority or necessity for local communities.

Strains on local government funding

Local government funding comes from a range of sources, including local taxes and charging for some services. For most councils, the largest source is the annual Scottish Government grant. There has been a view in recent years that councils are having to do ‘more with less’, making it more challenging to deliver the full range of services.

There are also other challenging long-term trends, such as Scotland’s generally ageing population, as well as the climate emergency and councils’ role in addressing it. Change works at different paces or in different ways in different areas. For instance, some communities are expanding in population and others are declining.

Recently, the Committee has begun to explore these changes in depth. In our budget scrutiny last year, our theme was “the long-term financial sustainability of local government”. We heard about the strain councils were under. We also heard good news about innovative and imaginative responses from councils to the challenge.

COVID-19

When COVID-19 struck earlier this year, it had an immediate and negative impact on councils who suddenly had to deliver emergency services to many vulnerable people. There are many positive stories to share – for instance on how councils worked with others to help homeless people and rough sleepers during the lockdown. The Scottish Government has also sought to lessen the financial strain with emergency funding.

But the impact of COVID-19 will likely be felt for years. Some proposals that would have affected council funding - for instance a new law for a tourist levy that would have provided a new revenue source – have been postponed.

Our questions for you

To help with its scrutiny work, the Committee wants to hear your views on these issues:

  1. How has COVID-19 impacted the local government sector, in particular, council finances? Which council responsibilities are most impacted?
     
  2. Which parts of local government have been least affected or most resilient?
     
  3. What help will councils need in future from the Scottish Government or others to overcome the ongoing financial strain?
     
  4. What can local government sector do, in the short and long term, to manage the financial impact of the crisis? What positive examples can councils and others share about the good work done at local government and community level to lessen the crisis?
     
  5. How soon do you think the sector will be back to normal? Or is this time for a “new normal” in the way we deliver some council services or practice local democracy? If so, what will it look like?

The Committee scrutinises Scottish Government housing policy, as well as local government housing responsibilities, and views on the impact of COVID-19 on housing policy are also welcome.

Please note that whilst funding for schools is part of the overall funding of local authorities, there is a separate Parliamentary Committee (the Education and Skills Committee that looks into school funding and policy.

How to submit your views

Please submit you views using the online submission form, linked to below.

The call for views will close on Friday 4 September 2020.

We welcome written views in English, Gaelic, Scots or any other language. 

Submissions are normally published, and the Committee will consider these before taking oral evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on local government in the autumn.

Around the end of October, we will write to the Scottish Government with our recommendations for next year’s Scottish Government budget as it affects local government, housing and communities.

Interests

  • Local Government
  • Finance