Council Leader warns of catastrophic cuts
Midlothian Council Leader, Councillor Derek Milligan, is warning that despite yesterday’s announcement by Finance Minister Derek Mackay of changes to the Scottish Government’s grant settlement, Midlothian councillors are still having to consider savings measures to bridge a £7.408 million budget cuts that will “decimate” local services.
Scottish Government funding cuts
Councillor Milligan, said yesterday’s announcement did little to ease funding pressures exacerbated by Midlothian’s status as Scotland’s fastest growing local authority.
He said: “What is being sold as an increase of £90 million in funding for local government simply means that the huge cut in local authority budgets is slightly less huge.
In Midlothian, we are still faced with a 1.5% cut when our population growth requires that spending increases considerably. Even if councillors agree to increase Council Tax by the 4.79% allowed by the government, we’re still facing devastating decisions on jobs and services.
“Given the severity of the grant settlement announced last December officers have had to bring forward a set of measures which are, quite frankly, catastrophic.
“I along with other Council Leaders in the Lothian’s have written to Mr Mackay asking for an urgent, independent review on how local authorities are funded. In the meantime though, all 18 elected members of this council have no choice but to consider these savings measures at the next full Council meeting on Tuesday 12 February to bridge the £7.408 million shortfall in our finances that still remains.”
More about the measures
The measures all councillors are facing include:
• Closing Dalkeith, Newtongrange and Gorebridge libraries
• Ending funding for the Community Safety and Midlothian Community Policing teams
• Cutting the school crossing guide service
• Closing all five public toilets
• Closing Penicuik Recycling Centre
• Closing Danderhall, Gorebridge and Newtongrange leisure centres
• Stopping the Active Schools service
• Stopping all funding for gala days
• Closing Vogrie golf course
• Consulting on the future of Glencorse Primary School
• Reducing creative arts provision in schools
• Reducing roads and property maintenance
Last year's cuts back on table
Councillor Milligan said the Administration had put forward a budget last year that avoided many of the cuts that are back on the table again this year. He said: “It’s horrendous that the continued underfunding of this council by Scottish Government means we find ourselves in an even more acute position.
A perfect storm
“The combination of a cut in grant imposed by Scottish Government and an increasing demand for our services, which the government don’t seem to want to recognise, has caused a perfect financial storm.
“Even after yesterday’s announcement, we’re facing an overall budget shortfall from April of £9.739 million. This is the difference between what the council needs to spend next year to keep services at current levels, and what we expect to get. Even with a full 4.79% increase in Council Tax, along with plans to generate additional income, increase charges and continue to transform the way services operate, we are still looking at cuts in local services in Midlothian of over £7.408 million.
Midlothian situation acute
“While the majority of local authorities are also facing similar cuts, Midlothian’s position is particularly acute, given we are the fastest growing local authority in Scotland.”
Write to MSP
Cllr Milligan is urging the public to write to their local MSP demanding a fairer funding mechanism is put in place recognising the exceptional population growth in the Lothians.
At 3pm on Thursday afternoon Derek MacKay MSP, The Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy & Fair Work confirmed a package of further measures covering local taxation and local government finance. This included the following changes to the 2019/20 local government grant settlement:-
• An increase in the core resource local government settlement of which Midlothian will receive £1.493 million;
• Greater flexibility on Council Tax with the flexibility to increase the Council up to 4.79% next year. The increase from the previous 3% maximum would raise and additional £871,000.
In addition Scottish Government has indicated that Council should now only have to make provision in their budgets to meet a smaller share of the increase in teachers’ pension contributions with Government funding now expected to cover 79% of the increase. For Midlothian this change equates to £290,000.
Taken together these three changes reduce the budget shortfall set out in the Council report by £2.654 million. However the revised grant settlement still represents a cut in core funding (at a national level of approximately 1.5%) and after applying, if approved, the full 4.79% Council Tax increase this still requires the Council to make significant budget savings totalling £7.408 million to achieve a balanced budget.