SCOTTISH councils are facing an “austerity time bomb” with a further 20,000 job losses this year, according to a local authority union.

Unite said councils were “drip feeding” figures for cuts and savings, and that Scotland’s two biggest cities would have to save £272 million between them.

It said Glasgow would have to shed 3,000 jobs this year to save £131m, while Edinburgh would lose 2,000 posts to save £141m.

Over the coming weeks, Unite said it planned to hold mass meetings with its members across local government, which would give a clearer picture of the position Scotland-wide.

Unite’s deputy Scottish secretary Mary Alexander told The National: “As it stands we are looking at an austerity time-bomb across Scottish local government which will result in a further 20,000 job cuts over the next year – the impact on local services and livelihoods will be disastrous.

“The scale of the local government funding cut coupled with the continuation of the council tax freeze in December’s budget only intensifies what was already a funding crisis and we have previously called for the Scottish Government to reveal their future plans for local government as a matter of urgency. We are still waiting for that clarity.”

Alexander said Unite had also called for a degree of cross-party co-operation on its campaign for an amnesty on debts owed to the Treasury before devolution under the Scotland Act.

She said this could release £2.5 billion back into councils’ revenue budgets and help alleviate the pressure on jobs and services.

But she warned: “This is not a panacea in itself given the estimated £14.8bn worth of total debt held by Scottish councils, but should serve as one of many alternative proposals to a cut and gut austerity agenda.

“However, with councils drip feeding the extent of their intended cuts as they look to set their budgets, local government workers and local communities are desperately seeking answers from the Scottish Government in the hope of avoiding mass redundancies and service closures.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government responded: “Despite ongoing cuts to our budget as a result of the UK Government’s continuing austerity programme, the Scottish Government has always treated local government very fairly, with settlements maintained on a like for like basis over 2012-16.

“The 2016-17 local government funding proposal delivers a strong but challenging financial settlement for local government.

“We have made £70 million available to continue to fully fund the council tax freeze for a ninth consecutive year, which will save the average band D household, around £1,550 in total on their bill, and we are now in discussion with councils over the terms and implementation of the local government finance settlement before the final budget vote next month.”

Across Scotland’s local government sector, union representatives have reported widely varying figures for the anticipated redundancies and the number of volunteers.

In Highland Council more than 200 employees – including a dozen senior managers – have indicated that they would consider a voluntary redundancy package, after most of its workforce were offered one. Others are looking at working fewer hours to help the council save money.

Dundee City Council has also asked its staff to consider accepting a package. North Lanarkshire has already warned that 1,100 jobs could be cut; Falkirk was looking at 700, Fife at more than 500, with 400 and 300 respectively at South Lanarkshire and Argyll and Bute.

Alexander added: “The debate on the future of local government should dominate the forthcoming election campaign because we can’t wait until after May to see how hard and fast the axe is going to fall.”