LAST Thursday I joined trade unionists, Labour councillors and activists from across Scotland at a rally outside the Scottish Parliament in advance of that afternoon’s Scottish draft budget debate.

The rally was organised by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) as part of its campaign against cuts to public services and for a fair pay settlement for public sector workers.

Unfortunately we were to be disappointed when the Cabinet Secretary for Finance Derek Mackay presented his draft budget to parliament.

The big losers in the draft budget were once again Scotland’s 32 councils. 

While Mr Mackay has offered ‘extra’ money to councils for government priorities, such as the expansion of childcare services and this year’s teachers’ pay settlement, he has found this ‘extra’ money by cutting funding for other council services. 

On a like-for-like basis the block revenue grant for councils is to be cut by £153 million between this year and next.

Inverclyde’s share of this cut in around £2.3m. Councils’ core capital grant has also been cut by £55m.

The draft local government finance settlement makes no provision for a pay increase for council staff. 

So while the government has indicated that public sector employers should be offering pay rises of around two to three per cent next year it hasn’t provided funding to councils for this purpose.

Any pay award will therefore need to be funded from savings, meaning further cuts to jobs and services, and an increase in council tax.

The Scottish Government is again proposing a three per cent cap on council tax increases, although in reality they are ‘encouraging’ councils to increase council tax by three per cent to offset part of the grant cut they are proposing. 

This year councils like Inverclyde, who did not increase their council tax in April, have been heavily criticised by government ministers for not doing so.

It has been disappointing to see local SNP MSPs and councillors welcoming cuts to the council’s funding but for them loyalty to the party always comes first.

No doubt any cuts to local jobs and services will be blamed on ‘the big bad’ Tories at Westminster. While the Tories should take a share of the blame, the failure of SNP Ministers to use the powers at their disposal to protect vital local services means they are equally culpable.

It should be remembered however that this is a draft budget. Opposition parties at Holyrood have indicated they will seek changes from the government in return for supporting the final budget in February. 

Labour and the Greens in particular want to see an improved settlement for local government, with additional funding for pay awards.

While I hope they are successful we shouldn’t let our local MSPs Derek Mackay and Stuart McMillan off the hook. It is important we continue to lobby them for a better deal for Inverclyde.

You can contact them by email at the following addresses: (Kilmacolm and Quarrier’s Village); (the rest of Inverclyde).

I have no doubts this is a subject I will return to in 2018.