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Finance Secretary faces backlash

Cuts looming after councils agree to Swinney budget

John Swinney delivers BudgetCuts to public services are now on the agenda after Scotland’s 32 local authorities have signed up to the package of cutbacks announced by Finance Secretary John Swinney.

Amid criticism that he is following the Westminster government’s austerity strategy, councils will be unable to raise council tax in order to offset the £350 million being shaved off the coming year’s funding.

Edinburgh council leader Andrew Burns claimed the £78m of cuts imposed on the city were punitive while Frank McAveety, his counterpart in Glasgow, compared Mr Swinney to the Godfather Don Corleone for “making us an offer we can’t refuse.”

Mr Swinney has put a positive spin on the deal, arguing that householders, workers, healthcare and schools will all benefit from his budget.

He said it will mean a Living Wage for every social care worker in Scotland, freezing council tax at current rates for a ninth year, investing £250 million in integrating health and social care services, and maintaining the pupil/teacher ratio in Scotland’s schools.

Lengthy discussions between the Scottish Government and local government body COSLA resulted in ministers agreeing to extend the deadline for councils to examine the proposal.

The government said the settlement includes £70 million to continue the council tax freeze and ease the burden on stretched household budgets.

A further £88 million is included in the settlement to ensure that councils maintain the number of teachers to pupils at current levels, including the induction of new teaching staff to replace those leaving the profession.

Mr Swinney said: “I welcome the agreement of Scotland’s local authorities to this financial settlement which, when taken together as a package of funding, will enable them to increase the pace of reform and improve essential public services to communities all over the country.

“The Scottish Government was elected on a promise to freeze the council tax while we consider ways to replace it with a fairer system. That is the correct approach to take to provide support to household incomes in these challenging financial times.

“My priority all along has been to deliver a financial settlement that councils can accept in order that we can pursue our shared priorities to improve outcomes for local people through health and social care integration and by improving educational attainment.”

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