Council leaders warn of serious financial challenges ahead
The leaders of two Scottish local authorities are warning of serious financial challenges ahead thanks to a Scottish Government budget that is “a bad deal for communities”.
West Lothian Council leader, Lawrence Fitzpatrick, recently joined the leaders of Scotland’s 32 local authorities in co-signing a letter calling for an urgent meeting with the First Minister to address the “unacceptable” cut to core revenue funding for local councils.
Mr Fitzpatrick said: “Year on year cuts to funding for local authorities are severely impacting on the ability of councils to continue to deliver a balanced budget which protects local, public services.
“It is vital that further grant support delivered by the Scottish Government for the benefit of local communities in West Lothian. It is not too late to address this issue and I would implore the Scottish Government to answer the call from Scotland’s council leaders.
“Council officers have been busy assessing what impact this settlement will have as work continues on delivering a balance budget for West Lothian.
“It should be noted that while Council Tax is important, it only accounts for about 20% of the council’s overall budget. The other 80% of our funding comes from the Scottish Government which is why the funding given to us by Holyrood is so critical to us and why the ongoing underfunding causes such challenges for the council.”
West Lothian Council said it may need to make savings of £12.5 million in 2022/23 following the Scottish Government’s draft budget being published since the funding continues to be insufficient to meet increasing costs and demands for services.
It is estimated that between April 2007 and March 2023 West Lothian Council will have made budget savings of £151m due to prolonged constraints in Scottish Government funding, which equates to over £1,832 per household in West Lothian.
West Lothian said it will be forced to deliver savings in2022/23 to meet the shortfall in funding and balance the budget.
Following the Scottish Government draft budget in December, a report to the Council Executive has set out that councils across Scotland are now facing deeper real terms cuts than originally thought.
The budget gap in West Lothian will increase 2022/23 following analysis of the Scottish Governments draft budget paper.
The projected budget gap considers required levels of investment on key service areas such as education and social care and also factors in an assumed council tax increase of 3% as per the long-term forecast approved at the council’s last budget setting meeting in 2021.
Speaking as the cross-party working group of Midlothian councillors faces a budget gap of £13.5m for the year ahead, Midlothian Council leader Councillor Derek Milligan said: “We’re disappointed and frustrated that once again local councils’ pleas for a fair settlement to help people live well locally have been ignored and that our own calls for funding to support a growing population have not been acted on by government.
“The core settlement, which represents a cut of £100m across Scotland even before pressures like inflation are taken into account, will be felt most keenly by those who can least afford it – our communities and our workers. As agreed unanimously at the CoSLA Leaders’ Group, this is a bad deal for communities.
“The cross party working group had worked together to navigate through what we all thought was a pessimistic budget outlook for the year ahead. Despite that, we had a plan in place to balance next year’s budget without imposing service cuts on our communities. The settlement published on 20 December means we now estimate that we are a further £6m worse off than those already challenging budget predictions. If we were to pass that on to our residents that figure alone would be the equivalent of a 10.3% Council Tax increase.”
Cllr Milligan was particularly concerned with the drop in the government funding to deliver the 1,140 hours of early learning and childcare (ELC) for all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds.
He said: “The ELC funding for Midlothian has been cut by £1.5m. While part of this will be a cut over three years, it still begs the question of how on earth are we supposed to give our children, many of whom are living in areas of high deprivation, the best start in life without funding to provide high quality early learning?”
Cllr Milligan said CoSLA leaders agreed the latest government settlement comes after years of cuts to core funding to local councils. “As a council in the fastest growing local authority area in Scotland this settlement gives us nothing to support growth, to sustain essential services or support recovery from COVID in the coming years,” he said.
The council leader added that, as discussed and agreed by CoSLA leaders, while the government’s decision to take away the Council Tax cap was welcome, local people can’t be expected to foot the bill because of a poor settlement.
He said: “These cuts in funding by Scottish Government are affecting vulnerable people and indeed our workforce the hardest so we need to continue to fight for a fairer settlement rather than let local people face the consequences of devastating cuts to essential services.”