HOLYROOD is overlooking “essential services” for Scotland’s communities, council chiefs claim.

Cosla, which represents local authorities, has today launched a campaign calling on Finance Secretary Derek Mackay to “invest in Scotland’s councils before it is too late”.

The body, headed by president Alison Evison, says the Scottish Government has “chosen to overlook the essential services that communities rely on day in, day out” in recent years.

Calling for more cash in this year’s budget, the organisation warns public transport, libraries and sports facilities are at risk.

But new chancellor Sajid Javid will not lay out his financial plans until March – far later than usual.

That’s despite the fact that the Scottish Government must know how much its settlement from Westminster can be to inform its spending plans, which have to be finalised by April 1. In a letter to Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak, Mackay said he was being forced to choose between “two highly undesirable outcomes” – either publishing a Scottish budget based on guesswork before Westminster’s to allow for parliamentary processes, or holding back and trying to rush through assent in time.

Now he is under more pressure as Cosla publishes its vision for council finances. The campaign is based on research showing overall local government funding has dropped by 7% since 2013-14, compared to the 2% reduction in Scottish Government’s total revenue funding. Cosla’s material states that local government’s 33% share of the Scottish budget has dropped from 34.7% in 2013-14.

Meanwhile, national policy initiatives on education and other matters have increased, and now account for 60% of council budgets. This means any savings needed must come from the remaining 40%, such as roads and public transport.

Cosla’s resources spokesperson Gail Macgregor said: “Ringfencing and Scottish Government-devised policy initiatives mean that more and more has to be delivered from an ever decreasing portion of local budgets. The reality is that services such as roads, buses, paths, planning, community learning, events, sports facilities, libraries, tourism, business support and environmental health all sit unprotected.

“Local government’s role in creating sustainable communities cannot continue to be underestimated.”

But the Scottish Government says the UK Government’s decision means it does “not have clarity on the funding available for our schools, hospitals and other vital public services”.

A spokesperson said: “Despite further cuts to the Scottish Budget from the UK Government, we have ensured our partners in local government receive a fair funding settlement – delivering a funding package of £11.2 billion for all local authorities in 2019-20, which is a real terms increase of more than £310 million. While ring-fenced funding is for increased investment in services such as our schools and nurseries, local authorities have complete autonomy to allocate over 92% – £10.3bn – of the funding we provide, plus all locally raised income.

“Decisions on budget allocations for future years are subject to the outcome of the current negotiations with Cosla. The results will be confirmed as part of the Budget in due course.

“The failure of the UK Government to publish its budget at an earlier time means we do not have clarity on the funding available for our schools, hospitals and other vital public services.

“Despite this, we remain focused on introducing a Scottish budget for 2020-21 at the earliest practical opportunity, and are in discussions with Cosla on how we can support their budget process.”