Capping still a straightjacket

The remnants of the previous government’s council budget-capping regime still straight-jacket the freedom of action local authority finance directors can exercise, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities told the conference.

COSLA chief executive Douglas Sinclair called for the total abolition of the guidelines, labelling them unnecessary and counter-productive. ‘Councils can be trusted more to behave with fiscal responsibility, and to be held properly accountable to their communities for the expenditure decisions they take,’ he said.

The government has held on to reserve capping powers though it has abolished the crude capping that forced councils to cut their annual budgets at central government’s request under the last government.

COSLA is pushing for a separate inquiry focusing on local authority finance, a call backed by CIPFA. ‘If we can get them to do that it will be a great victory,’ Sinclair said. ‘The key thing is to get that independent review.’

Sinclair said best value – designed to enhance service delivery – would place more emphasis on financial probity, and put the FD or treasurer at the heart of the regime.

‘Local authorities will have to work with health authorities and other bodies. This means a larger central pot of money for finance staff to deal with,’ added Sinclair.

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