Sunak refuses to be drawn on funding for local authorities

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has refused to be drawn on offering more money to councils at the urging of local authority leaders.

On Thursday, local authority bodies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland wrote to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt urging him to provide “sufficient investment to local government”.

All four bodies warned public services could suffer without extra cash.

The Prime Minister spoke to journalists at the Scottish Tory conference in Aberdeen amid tensions between authorities and the Scottish Government over funding settlements.

Asked if next week’s Spring Budget could see the UK Government step in, the Prime Minister said: “The UK Government is already providing the Scottish Government with a record block grant – £41 billion.

“The last two fiscal events did see an extra two-and-a-half billion pounds or so as well.”

Scottish ministers, he said, were “accountable for how they’re choosing to spend that money when it comes to councils”.

Asked if his answer meant there would be no funding announced for councils that would filter through to the devolved administrations, the Prime Minister repeated the amount of funding the Scottish Government received this year from Westminster, adding that they were “investing directly in local communities”.

“The question is, really, why are the SNP Government choosing to make the decisions they are and not able to prioritise the things that matter to people,” he said.

“That’s what happens when you’re focused on the wrong priorities – if you’re obsessively focused with independence and not on public services like the NHS, like schools, like cutting crime, people are going to see the result of those decisions.”

First Minister Humza Yousaf announced a council tax freeze in his first leadership speech to the SNP conference without consulting local authority leaders.

Argyll and Bute Council and Inverclyde Council representatives have voted to increase the levy regardless of the Government’s stance – although Inverclyde has since offered to freeze its rates in exchange for a recurring increase in funding.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As outlined by the Deputy First Minister, the UK Government’s autumn statement was the worst-case scenario for Scotland’s finances.

“The Scottish Government’s block grant has fallen by 1.2% in real terms since 2022-23 and its capital funding is being slashed by almost 10% in real terms between 2023-24 and 2027-28.

“The spring Budget is a vital opportunity for the UK Government to change course – investment in public services must be the priority.

“Final confirmation of the consequentials resulting from additional funding for local government in England would also be welcome and enable the Scottish Government to provide greater certainty to councils on the commitments ministers have made to them.”