Council faces a possible £40m budget black hole
ARGYLL and Bute Council could face further cuts of up to £40 million over the next three years to meet an ‘unprecedented’ funding gap in its budget, according to new estimates.
A report presented to the council’s Policy and Resources Committee on August 18 estimated a funding gap for 2017-20 of between £16.9 million in the best case scenario, and £33.9 million in the worst. It also projected a shortfall of between £3.4 million and £10.5 million from 2017-18.
Now those deficits have been revised upwards following analysis by the Fraser of Allander Institute, which was released in September.
The council’s updated report, presented at the Policy and Resources Committee meeting on October 27 reads: ‘They report that the financial outlook looks just as, if not more, challenging than we have had in the past few years. It predicts the average reduction in funding for ‘unprotected’ public services, such as local government, could be in the range of between 2.6 and 4.5 per cent between now and 2020-21.
‘The estimate of Scottish Government funding has been updated to reflect a worsening position. The funding gap estimated over the three-year period 2017-18 to 2019-20 has been revised to be between £18.2 million and £ 39.9 million, with a gap of between £4 million and £13.1 million in 2017-18.’
Savings have been identified in the council’s print management of £140,000 by 2018-19, and in its loans charges budget, with a ‘prudent ongoing reduction of £250,000 built into the estimates’. Catering and cleaning services were also subject to a savings review, which acknowledged there were ‘no easy wins in terms of generating extra revenues or reducing catering and cleaning costs’, with ‘current cleaning standards [are] at the lower end of acceptable’.
The Scottish Government is expected to announce its draft budget after the Chancellor’s autumn statement on November 23.
Oban South and the Isles councillor Roddy McCuish said: ‘We will not know what our settlement will be until December. There is only one thing for certain: budgets are going down. The government is following its manifesto. Education and health are at the top, but local government does not seem to be anywhere near the top.
‘Nothing is surer: we are going to have to stop things. It is imperative to find out what people want us to preserve, and what they want to stop.’ He said he hoped ‘people will come forward with suggestions to mitigate the dreadful situation we are in’.
Oban, Lorn and the Isles’ councillors held an open council surgery on the cuts and other local issues at Oban’s Corran Halls on Wednesday evening.
Kieron Green, councillor for Oban North and Lorn, called a £40 million cut ‘unprecedented’ and ‘undeliverable’, and said it would leave the council ‘unable to continue local government services as we know them.
‘I question whether we can deliver £40 million worth of savings while continuing services people expect and the council is required to provide: bin collections, road maintenance – people are already complaining about potholes. There has to be a recognition it is unsustainable. Communities are going to have to play a much bigger role in delivering these services.’