Scotland’s councils have had a pivotal role in supporting and working with communities as they responded to the impacts of Covid-19. Now councils must lead recovery work with and alongside their local communities, focusing on getting the services people need in place as pressures and stresses escalate and impact the day to day lives of individuals and communities. 

In its 2022, Local Government Overview report, the Accounts Commission, who report to the public on the performance of local government, detail particular low points for Environmental Health services: 

  1. Trading standards and environmental health Services have lost 34% of their expenditure (real terms) since 2010/11. This makes it the third worst hit Local Authority service with street cleaning and libraries at 35% and 36% respectively. These longer-term spending reductions have placed the service under pressure as it responds and recovers from Covid-19. 
  2. 50% of Local Authorities in Scotland are reporting a skills shortage for Environmental Health Officers. This makes it the fifth worst Local Authority occupational skill gap in Scotland.
  3. The report also highlights the increasing burden on environmental health from new pressures. The inability to clear backlogs and meet new demands is a risk to wider recovery. 

The Accounts Commission are clear that recovery and renewal across councils isn’t about a return to pre-pandemic service delivery. It must be about much more, changing and challenging how services are delivered. 

The position for councils, is however, challenging and complex: 

  • dealing with increasing demand and service backlogs 
  • long-standing pressures, including rising poverty and inequalities 
  • high absence levels and acute skills shortages amongst some key front-line workers 
  • a lack of certainty and flexibility over long-term funding 
  • national priorities, including climate change and public sector reform. 

William Moyes, Chair of the Accounts Commission said: 

“Councils are operating in a complex and increasingly volatile, unprecedented and unpredictable environment. Strong leadership from councils is needed now more than ever, with new and returning councillors being able and willing to make difficult decisions about where and how to spend highly pressurised resources. 

Pressures on councils and their communities have intensified from spiralling inflation and significant increases to the cost of living. This has direct and unintended consequences on councils at a time when they sought a period of stability to tackle the impacts of the pandemic. Councillors and senior officers must use learning from the past two years, working with their partners and communities in the recovery, renewal and difficult decision making about the future of services.