THE Scottish Budget has dominated the parliamentary agenda and featured heavily in the Tele in recent weeks – and understandably so.

The budget set by the Scottish Parliament will affect jobs and services here in Inverclyde and throughout the country.

Much of the debate in parliament centred on what the budget deal means for Scotland’s cash-strapped councils and the services they provide.

Councillors may have some discretion over council tax and charges but in reality the Scottish Government is the principal funder of local government in Scotland.

With more power than ever before over taxation, borrowing and investment, it seemed that this year could be the year that the SNP chose to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to stop cuts to council services. 

Reports of a budget deal with the Scottish Greens led to claims of a ‘extra’ cash for local government and, locally, a ‘budget boost’ for Inverclyde.

Yet as council leader Stephen McCabe confirmed in the Tele over the weekend, even when accounting for revisions to the budget settlement, Inverclyde Council will still have to make £8 million of cuts by 2020.

So what does the Scottish budget really mean for Scotland’s councils?

The umbrella body for Scottish local authorities, COSLA, requested an additional £545 million for local government.

They are absolutely clear that more money is required to keep up with mounting costs, like inflation, and to meet rising levels of demand. In other words, councils need an extra £545 million just to stand still.

The budget last week falls significantly short. The position for local councils has changed but austerity is not over. Far from it. 

There are no guarantees that new resources made available to councils for this year will be there again next year and, after a sustained period of budget cuts, many local services have been degraded and posts have been shed.

I recognise the work that Inverclyde Council and local government trade unions have done to protect frontline jobs and services within the constraints of a tight settlement but the cuts they face will continue until austerity is confronted.

It’s time for a serious debate about alternatives – using new tax powers to ask the richest in society to pay their fair share would be a useful place to start.