THE Scottish Budget has been hailed as the “greenest” finance announcement since devolution, but issues with local government funding could still impact climate change targets which are already falling behind.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced on Thursday that local authorities will see a funding increase of £500 million, but this was disputed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), who said the increase only amounts to £71m after government mandated policies are paid for. They also claimed that capital funding will remain flat for next year. Although councils have been given flexibility over council tax, with the cost of living crisis still battering households across Scotland, it’s unclear how many would decide to pursue this route to raise revenue.

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The Government has been warned that urgent action must be taken to ensure the country gets back on track to reach emissions targets. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) noted earlier this month that while emissions fell between 2019 and 2020, this was largely due to the impact of the pandemic and travel restrictions, and figures will likely bounce back to previous levels.

The Scottish Greens’ fingerprints are evident across some of the top line policies; a trial end to peak rail fares, boost for funding to biodiversity, and investment in greener energy to power homes and active travel schemes. Ross Greer, finance spokesperson, said: “Despite the tough economic backdrop, this is without doubt the Greenest budget in the history of the Scottish Parliament.”

But it isn’t just the Scottish Government who have a responsibility to help reduce emissions and implement key policies to combat climate change; local authorities have a central role to play and were vocally unimpressed with their funding allocation from Swinney, insisting that some services will have to be stopped altogether.

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Ahead of the Budget, Cosla’s Save Our Services (SOS) campaign noted climate change as one of five key areas. They pointed to the CCC’s criticism of the Scottish Government over the lack of a concrete plan for climate change policies, adding: “A quantified plan is needed now. Local Government is the Scottish Government’s key delivery partner on climate change but budget cuts sap Local Authorities’ ability to respond to a changing world.”

Councils are on the front line of climate change and the delivery of public transport and active travel, building and maintaining electrical vehicle infrastructure, making homes and buildings more energy efficient, rolling out low carbon heating technology, protecting green spaces and implementing flood protection and climate resilience.

And each authority area is different – coastal communities will see rising tide levels in the years to come, there are significant connectivity and travel issues in rural areas, and cities are a hotbed for greenhouse gas emissions.

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Cosla warned that cuts would mean less investment in transport and heat decarbonisation, less cash to protect communities from climate change impacts, such as flooding and droughts, and climate targets for 2030 will be put at further risk.

The Sunday National approached Scotland’s 32 local authorities to seek their perspective on their ability to roll out climate change policies following the Budget. The majority decline to comment as they are awaiting further details from the local government settlement.

However, East Lothian said that tackling climate change is a “significant priority” they remain committed to. A spokesperson added: “Realising these ambitions will require significant investment over a number of years which is one of the reasons why the next local government settlement, which accounts for the majority of the council’s budget, will be very important.”

Fife stated that they had concerns over reductions to funding for low carbon transport as significant investment is needed in the local area to establish affordable, low carbon transport infrastructure. A spokesperson added: “The Scottish Government’s target for all public sector buildings to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2038 is a significant pressure, and this budget provides very limited additional support to achieve this.”

South Ayrshire are still assessing the Budget’s impact on their net zero plans, and will be adjusting their strategy in 2023. “This will reflect the urgency of the climate emergency and our national targets as well as what is feasible given available resources,” a spokesperson added. Inverclyde announced £4m in cuts on Friday afternoon, including the loss of 15 jobs and the closure of leisure facilities.

If the Scottish Government is truly intent on reducing emissions, then it could be argued that getting local authorities on side and funding them properly might help them reach the ambitious targets they set.