West Dunbartonshire budget gap of £7million branded a “disaster”

More than £7million of cuts could be made in West Dunbartonshire – as councillors blasted next year’s budget a “disaster” for the area.

The local authority is facing a massive shortfall in funding, with forecasts showing the Scottish Government’s settlement for 2022/23 is lower than anticipated.

One member said services across the area are at “deep risk” unless funding is increased.

Councillors were united in condemning the deal, with SNP leader Jonathan McColl saying he is seeking an urgent meeting with finance secretary Kate Forbes in the new year before the council budget is required to be set in March.

Speaking at a West Dunbartonshire Council meeting last week, he said: “Myself and finance convenor Ian Dickson have had a number of meetings with various cabinet secretaries in the run up to the Scottish Government budget announcement.

“This is not a good budget for local government and it is not a good budget for West Dunbartonshire.

“We need to try and get more money for our core settlement.

“We will be pushing hard for that.

Council leader Jonathan McColl

“We had an emergency COSLA meeting last night. We approved unanimously a very robust motion outlining our extreme concern with the funding settlement we’ve had and trying to progress with a number of key points.”

Opposition Labour leader Martin Rooney said the calculations showed that the council’s funding gap was originally anticipated to be £5.6m but had increased to £7.035m as a result of the Scottish Government budget.

He fumed: “This is a disaster for West Dunbartonshire. A disaster in the way the Scottish Government has handled the process in not giving us the information early enough and a disaster in holding back funding which should come to councils like West Dunbartonshire.

“It’s a huge gap for us to deal with.

“Hopefully COSLA leaders can campaign to get a fairer deal for West Dunbartonshire.”

Chief finance officer Stephen West explained that the council was expecting the UK Government’s increase in national insurance employer contributions to form part of the settlement – which they haven’t. A spat between Labour and the SNP broke out over whether the Scottish Government had received their share of this cash from the UK Government.

Scottish ministers have also confirmed the council tax freeze has ended, meaning the local authority could consider increasing rates next year.

Council shadow Labour leader Martin Rooney

Mr West, who sat in his last meeting ahead of his retirement, said: “Members will have seen that the funding for the national insurance uplift has not been provided so that in itself is a significant impact on the council of about £1.227m.

“The other aspect that wasn’t covered in the strategy is the change in council tax reduction rules.”

He said West Dunbartonshire’s declining population also had a direct impact on the settlement received, as more and more people choosing to leave the area.

He added: “Overall, in terms of those three main aspects, my current estimate is that it has an impact on the council’s funding gap for 2022/23 and increases it by £1.423m. That brings the gap up to roughly £7m.”

Dumbarton Labour councillor David McBride urged the council leader to fight for extra funding, saying: “It’s time that we hear more fighting talk from the leader of the council because each year the leader tells us he is going to set up meetings and he’s going to use his political influence to get money.

“When we get to a funding gap of £7m, the time for nice cosy chats with the cabinet secretary is over.

“We need action to get additional funding to this council after many years of cuts or the services we provide are at deep risk.”

Depute provost Karen Conaghan defended the council leader, replying: “You’ve heard from the leader of the council about the steps he’s taking to pursue that and get every penny we can for West Dunbartonshire.

“I hope between now and when we come to set our budget, we manage to identify as much as possible for the people of West Dunbartonshire to deliver as many good services as we can for them.”

The Scottish Government says their funding to councils represents a total cash increase of £917.9m, which is a real terms rise of 5.1 percent to support vital local government services.

They also say they have responded to requests by councils for more financial flexibility by enabling them to make their own local decisions on council tax.

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