Page last updated at 15:46 GMT, Sunday, 28 February 2010

Budget cuts 'catastrophe' warning

Generic UK bank notes
Mr Watters urged parties not to cut council budgets this year

A leading Scottish councillor has said it would be "catastrophic" if a future government went ahead with emergency spending cuts after the UK election.

Cosla president Pat Watters has written to all of the major parties at Westminster, including the SNP, to express his concern over the prospect.

His views have been echoed in a similar letter by First Minister Alex Salmond.

Senior Labour and Tory politicians said they did not believe devolved services would be affected by such cuts.

It is widely expected that the Conservatives would put forward an emergency budget should they win the forthcoming election, so that cuts could be made immediately.

What we need to ensure is that our vital front line services are protected
Pat Watters

Labour is to put forward a budget before the election, and is thought to be unlikely to produce another one in the short term should it still be in power after the ballot.

Mr Watters, a Labour councillor, told BBC Scotland's Politics Show that it had already been difficult for local authorities to balance their budgets while ensuring services would be delivered for the next financial year.

He said: "We lost something like £180m in our budgets this year and we had to manage that. It took a long time and a lot of consultation with our local communities to get to a position where we could put a budget forward and where we can see services being delivered for the next year.

"If three months into that or four months into that we have the government in Westminster telling us that what we are going to get is less money, that would be catastrophic for services in Scotland, and not just in Scotland but right across the public sector all over the UK."

Mr Watters said his view was shared by local authority administrations of all political persuasions in Scotland, and warned that councils across the country were likely to face total cuts of about 12% or even more over the next three years.

"In times that we have got coming to Scotland, and to the whole of the UK, what we need to ensure is that our vital front line services are protected and that the outcomes that people feel because of this is not lessening of service," he said.

'Reserved areas'

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said the first minister had written to Chancellor Alistair Darling, Conservative leader David Cameron, and Lib Dem shadow chancellor Vince Cable, stepping up calls for Scotland's budget not to be subject to any further cuts in 2010/11 by a future UK government.

The spokesman added: "It is essential that we have stability in the spending plans that the Scottish Parliament has approved, and that are now in place for 2010/11.

"Recovery is fragile at UK and Scottish levels, and now is also not the time for the Westminster government to turn off the tap of stimulus measures."

Mr Salmond wrote a similar letter to the three UK politicians on 12 February, but said he was "disappointed" not to have received a reply given the seriousness of the issue.

Former Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie, who is running the party's election campaign, told BBC Scotland: "We have said that there will be an emergency budget if we win the election and we will have to look at all areas of spending.

"Personally, I think the focus in terms of what we have looked at so far will be on the devolved rather than the reserved areas, but clearly we will have to look at the books when hopefully we will have a Conservative government and a Conservative chancellor."

Wendy Alexander, the former Scottish Labour leader, said: "Labour's budget is expected shortly - if we win I wouldn't anticipate there being another one quickly thereafter."

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