Council leader highlights financial sustainability challenges to ministers
East Lothian Council’s leader has written to Scotland’s deputy first minister and cabinet secretary for finance highlighting the “perfect and escalating financial storm” facing the local authority.
Councillor Norman Hampshire has requested an urgent cross-party meeting with Shona Robison MSP to discuss the ongoing financial sustainability facing the council.
The letter explains that the resources available to the council are not sufficient to meet the recurring cost of delivering services in an area experiencing significant population growth, with council tax only making up about a quarter of the council’s resource base. Most of the council’s income comes from central government grant.
It comes at a time when new or expanded schools are being delivered in East Lothian, while the council is experiencing increased demand for services such as referrals to children’s services and increases in household waste.
Councillor Hampshire said that, while the council has been innovative in transforming services and working to support economic growth, the scale of recurring financial pressures to support a growing society simply cannot be solely met by operating more “efficiently”.
He added: “The options now facing this council are neither palatable, or in the best interests of our communities both local and national, and without some help to support, I accept will have a long term detrimental impact to society as a whole.”
East Lothian’s working-age population is projected to increase by 8.6% (which is the joint 2nd highest in Scotland which has a projected increase of 3.3%). East Lothian’s pensionable age population is expected to increase by 10.9% (which is highest in Scotland which has a projected increase of 3.7%). East Lothian’s school-aged children is expected to increase by 17.1% during this same time period.
Councillor Hampshire said that council officers are forecasting that further savings in excess of £50 million will be required over the next four years in order to ‘stand still’ and much of this is aligned to supporting population growth.
“This is very stark and a very different scale from other authorities, and for a Council of this size, is simply unsustainable and quite frankly unmanageable,” he said.
While Councillor Hampshire believes there may be some opportunity to review the national distribution mechanism which supports national funding, he said that the implications facing East Lothian arising from population growth cannot simply be addressed by an in-ward looking review of distribution given the wide range of concurrent pressures facing local government sector as a whole.