Last week, the Improvement Service released Local Government Benchmarking Framework’s National Benchmarking Overview Report for the period 2018/19. The report found that Scottish local government is now operating in a more challenging setting with greater demand for services against a tightening budget, with improvements achieved in previous years starting to stall. In this blog update, the Improvement Service takes us through some findings from the report and what it might mean for councils in Scotland going forward.
The Local Government Benchmarking Framework (LGBF) provides evidence and rich data of trends in Scottish Local Government. It supports evidence-based comparisons between councils, over time, providing an essential tool for policy makers and the public alike. The annual report represents a joint commitment by SOLACE (Scotland) and COSLA to develop better measurement and comparable data to target resources and drive improvements.
Councils are continuing to protect expenditure in core areas with spending on education and care – which account for over 70 per cent of the benchmarked expenditure within the LGBF – relatively protected, the report has revealed. Increasing or only maintaining levels of spending in some areas in a declining overall budget causes cuts elsewhere with most other service areas experiencing substantial real reductions in spending with a:
- 23% reduction in culture and leisure spending
- 21% reduction in planning
- 28% reduction in economic development revenue spending
- 24% reduction in roads spending
- 10% reduction in environmental services spending
Local Government has performed well across the period despite growing pressure on budgets. Since the LGBF began in 2010, councils have been asked by governments and citizens to tackle new and substantial challenges. As an example, councils and their partners have planned for and delivered on health and social care integration – the biggest step change in public policy since devolution.
Despite many achievements in a difficult fiscal environment, performance improvements gained in recent years are now beginning to either slow or decline, a pattern emerging across all councils and in key service areas.
Whilst too premature to call a trend, the data does highlight that with the status quo there is a real risk to the future delivery of key services. Councils are delving into their reserves which raises questions as to how they will cope delivering services and maintain the momentum they have gained without a change in funding.
We’ve concluded that the next phase will be more challenging for Scottish Local Government with a greater need for collaboration and a focus on priorities.
Chair of SOLACE Scotland, Jim Savege, commented:
“Scottish local authorities have continued to do well providing valuable services and working with communities to achieve strong outcomes, despite growing pressure on their budgets. It is worrying that this report has found that whilst we have seen improvements or a maintenance in service performance in previous years in the face of challenging circumstance, that progress is now stalling. This does not come as a surprise given the long-term funding pressures on councils. Councils will continue to need to prioritise ever more and collaborate further in an increasingly challenging fiscal environment.”
COSLA President, Councillor Alison Evison, who also Chairs the Improvement Service Board, said:
“Scotland’s Councils play a major role in the Governance of Scotland and as our recent Essential Services Campaign highlighted we are the only sphere of Government that can deliver Sustainable Communities. This is because Councils are at the heart of local democracy and deliver essential services to local communities, responding where they can to local priorities. Each council has therefore developed the structure and service arrangements it believes are the most appropriate and cost effective to support its local community. There is therefore diversity in the approach of councils across Scotland. All councils do however report their performance locally within locally developed and agreed public reporting frameworks, which draw upon LGBF information.”