Leader warns of ‘fi­nan­cial black hole’

Lennox Herald - - NEWS - Jenny Foulds

A huge black hole has been found in West Dun­bar­ton­shire Coun­cil’s fi­nances, ac­cord­ing to the leader of the au­thor­ity.

The SNP group say dis­grun­tled coun­cil chiefs are fran­ti­cally try­ing to find £400,000 of cuts this year alone to fix the “ab­so­lute mess” caused by the pre­vi­ous Labour ad­min­is­tra­tion.

And in a grim warn­ing, they claimed vi­tal ser­vices across the area will be put at risk by the party’s “fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment”.

Leven coun­cil­lor Ian Dick­son told the Len­nox Her­ald that Labour added £500,000 of pro­jected sav­ings to their Fe­bru­ary bud­get — against of­fi­cers’ ad­vice.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion plugged the re­main­ing £2.2mil­lion short­fall with re­serves, herald­ing a “no cuts” bud­get.

But the sav­ings were not achieved — which coun­cil leader Jonathan McColl said has left a £400,000 deficit in the cof­fers.

The party — which gained con­trol of West Dun­bar­ton­shire in the May elec­tion — said Labour’s move was a de­ceit­ful way to “con the pub­lic” in an at­tempt to hold on to power.

Fi­nance con­venor Dick­son said: “I was warned when we took of­fice that there would be is­sues with the fi­nances, but it is far worse than I had feared.

“I am ap­palled by Labour’s dis­re­gard for lo­cal ser­vices — putting vi­tal ser­vices at risk in an at­tempt to steal an elec­tion is in­ex­cus­able.

“We only have so much money to spend and, thanks to Labour, ser­vices are go­ing to suf­fer.

“Not just things on the pe­riph­ery of what the coun­cil pro­vides, but some things that cut through the very heart of what we do.”

The SNP group say the area is fac­ing a huge £11m in cuts over the next two years.

And they claim Labour’s move, cou­pled with a re­duc­tion in the bud­get from West­min­is­ter, means cuts across many pub­lic ser­vices will have to be made, which will im­pact “al­most ev­ery­one” in the area.

Labour leader Martin Rooney hit back at the SNP, say­ing it was a tac­ti­cal move to shift blame once the bud­get comes around again over win­ter.

He said: “For the SNP it’s al­ways the same old story — a big boy did it and ran away.”

We asked the Leven coun­cil­lor if the group did plug the gap with these sav­ings and he replied: “I haven’t any idea what they are talk­ing about’.

“We cre­ated a bal­anced bud­get and the SNP group have come in and are try­ing to take away any re­spon­si­bilty for the cuts to come.

“It’s clear that the SNP are plan­ning to make huge cuts to ser­vices, cuts to jobs and in­creases in coun­cil tax and charges but rather than take on the re­spon­si­bil­ity of lead­er­ship they are do­ing what the SNP do best and try­ing to wash their hands of any re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Ex­plain­ing the back­ground to the short­fall, McColl said: “Of­fi­cers in­di­cated they could get a sav­ing of £1m through shar­ing ser­vices with other coun­cils but they said it would be tight to reach that fig­ure.

“Labour turned round in Fe­bru­ary’s bud­get and said they would be able to get £1.5m in sav­ings in­stead, so they added £500,000 of pro­jected sav­ings to their bud­get.

“This was com­pletely against of­fi­cers’ ad­vice and now we are cur­rently run­ning £400,000 un­favourably against the bud­get.

“All they did was move the cuts to next year.”

He added: “Of­fi­cers are do­ing ev­ery­thing they can now to plug this £400,000 to make sure the books are bal­anced by the end of the year.”

When asked whether he would be re­port­ing the is­sue to the Stan­dards Com­mis­sion for Scot­land, he said it wasn’t some­thing the watch­dog would get in­volved in be­cause it was a po­lit­i­cal tac­tic.

SNP coun­cil­lors are now draft­ing next year’s bud­get which will be re­vealed to the pub­lic over the com­ing months be­fore go­ing out to con­sul­ta­tion.

Con­cerns Jonathan McColl

Tac­ti­cal moves Martin Rooney

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