COUNCIL IN £400,000 SHORTFALL
Leader warns of ‘financial black hole’
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