Social work departments across Scotland “may take the brunt” of local government budget cuts, according to Unison and the Scottish Labour party.
Proposals for cuts to social work services began to emerge this week as finance secretary John Swinney announced the 2010 budget allocations for all 32 of Scotland’s councils, out of a total of almost £12bn.
Although Westminster has cut Scotland’s overall budget by more than £500m, Swinney said councils were receiving an increased share of the funding available.
But unions and opposition MSPs claimed their own research shows the budget, which relies on councils making “efficiency savings”, will result in local government spending cuts of around £300m and up to 3,500 job losses overall.
A spokesperson for Unison Scotland said this was likely to “impact significantly” on social care services.
Dave Watson, head of policy at Unison Scotland, added: “While it is not yet entirely clear where the cuts will fall in each council, there are a number of reasons to fear the worst as far as social care is concerned.
“Firstly, big departments will take the brunt of these cuts, and social work is always one of the biggest.
“Secondly we know in some areas, such as Glasgow, that cuts are being proposed to home care services and support to disabled people, welfare rights and community workers.”
A spokesperson for Glasgow Council, which has received a £1.6bn share of the budget, said that any savings made were being reinvested in services.
Scottish Labour minister Michael McMahon agreed with Unison Scotland that social work would “without question” be one of the worst hit areas.
For example, based on responses from 26 councils to a Freedom of Information request, McMahon said Highland Council’s social work department had set a “savings target” of £5m this year. The council has not confirmed this figure.
Highland Council’s budget leader David Alston described the budget challenges facing the authority as “extreme”.
But he said: “Balancing the books is essential if the council is to remain able to provide the services on which our communities depend.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are increasing funding to councils by £325m in 2010-11 to help local authorities protect front line services – such as social services – and play their part in the economic recovery.”