THIS crisis has really shown the best of the United Kingdom as all four constituent nations have rallied around our National Health Service and all our key essential workers.

Whether you live in Bristol or Bridgeton, in Salford or Shettleston, the people of these islands have shown an incredible bravery and fortitude that makes me so proud to be British. The strength of the United Kingdom has also meant that money announced to help local authorities in England deal with their response to coronavirus has given £155 million of consequential funding to the Scottish Government.

Unfortunately, instead of immediately replicating the commitment of her counterparts south of the Border, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes MS decided to prevaricate.

Incredibly, after her government starving local government of funding for years, she suggested that Scottish councils could use money in their reserves in order to respond to the challenges they now face. Let me be clear, this is an outrageous proposition. As a result of her own Budget earlier this year, local authorities across the country have already had to raid reserves in order to pay for basic services before this crisis was even on the horizon.

Devolution was intended to enhance local democracy, not act as a barrier to the dispersal of funds. When we voted in favour of a Scottish Parliament in 1997, it was not a signal that we wanted more bureaucracy which would stymie progress but rather a recognition that some decisions are better made closer to our communities. The £155m in funding is clearly intended to be provided directly to local authorities and that Kate Forbes would even think to believe that we are not deserving of this money really speaks to the contempt with which the SNP treat local government.

It looks like belatedly the Finance Secretary has climbed down and confirmed that councils will be receiving “every penny” of the £155m they are entitled to, but that she first needs details from Cosla “on the funding pressures that its members are facing, so that the money can be spent fairly in the areas of greatest need”. This sounds suspiciously like Kate Forbes is preparing to ring-fence funds before they are passed on to local authorities. This is not acceptable. Councils will need the flexibility to deploy resources as and when they think appropriate in the aftermath of this crisis and they do not need to be restricted by central government diktat.

Councillor Alison Evison, Cosla’s president, said: “As a respected sphere of governance in our own right, and as partners addressing the challenges of this pandemic, it is not for Scottish Government to direct local government spend to such a degree.”

I agree – it’s time the SNP at Holyrood start treating councils with some respect and it’s time for SNP councillors across the country to start speaking up and challenging those within their own party who believe it is acceptable to trample over local democracy and the fair funding of local authorities.