Coun­cil faces a pos­si­ble £40m bud­get black hole

The Oban Times - - News - SANDY NEIL sneil@oban­times.co.uk

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.’

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