A full-scale rebellion against John Swinney’s cuts to local authority funding is on the cards after the umbrella body for Scottish councils rejected his latest deal.
Councils will see their settlement slashed by hundreds of millions of pounds under the Deputy First Minister’s draft budget for 2016/17.
Calling it a “sad day for democracy”, Fife Council depute leader Lesley Laird accused Mr Swinney of “bully boy tactics of the first order” for his attempts to force councils to take the cut.
He met council leaders on Friday in an attempt to quell growing unrest at the cuts but drew fury instead.
Council body Cosla emphatically rejected his latest offer, calling it “totally unacceptable and an affront to local democracy”. Council leaders voted 21-7 in favour of rejecting the deal.
David O’Neill, the president of Cosla, which represents most of Scotland’s 32 councils, said: “The £350 million cut is bad enough but the way in which it will now be imposed on individual councils is even worse.
“The Scottish Government is basically forcing individual councils into having to accept the deal.”
Mr O’Neill added individual councils face “horrendous sanctions” if they do not sign up.
Cosla representative Ian Miller, the SNP leader of Perth and Kinross Council, which is poised to accept the deal, said the Cosla action was “politically motivated”.
He said Labour councils have not offered an alternative on how to handle the austerity package that has been imposed from Westminster.
“It’s not a position we want to be in but I think if other councils had planned in advance like we did they would not be in so much difficulty,” Mr Miller added.
Councillor Laird said it is “somewhat ironic” the Scottish Government is “stomping all over local authorities and removing any flexibility or local autonomy” amid their “haggling” over the Scotland Bill.
Mr Swinney said the reduction amounts to 2% and is partially offset by £250m for health and social care integration.
“While I recognise this will not be easy for councils to accommodate, some of the language used to describe the deal has been unnecessary,” he said.
“I hope and expect cooler heads will come to realise this is a deal councils can and should accept.”