Coun­cil bud­get short­fall widens

West Lothian Courier - - News - Sean O’Neil

West Loth­ian Coun­cil‘s an­tic­i­pated bud­get short­fall over the next five years has in­creased by £7.3 mil­lion to £73.3 mil­lion fol­low­ing re­cent de­vel­op­ments con­cern­ing public sec­tor pay.

The coun­cil has been an­tic­i­pat­ing a bud­get short­fall of more than £66 mil­lion be­tween 2018/19 and 2022/23, but re­cent de­vel­op­ments con­cern­ing public sec­tor pay and ad­di­tional pres­sures in so­cial care bud­gets have meant that West Loth­ian Coun­cil is mak­ing plans to bridge an ex­pected bud­get gap of £73.3 mil­lion over the next five years.

The fig­ures were set out in a re­cent re­port to the Coun­cil Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee.

The re­port noted that there are con­sid­er­able risks and un­cer­tain­ties around var­i­ous as­pects of coun­cil spend­ing, in­clud­ing the level of fu­ture pay awards, the costs of de­mand- led ser­vices es­pe­cially in so­cial care, and the level of in­fla­tion­ary in­creases in bud­gets.

There are also ma­jor risks con­nected to the fu­ture level of UK and Scottish Gov­ern­ment fund­ing and of pol­icy changes that im­pact on lo­cal gov­ern­ment in Scot­land.

Leader of West Loth­ian Coun­cil, Lawrence Fitz­patrick said: “The scale of the chal­lenges that lie ahead can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated. These are dis­tress­ing times for coun­cils across Scot­land and West Loth­ian Coun­cil is un­for­tu­nately not immune to the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions that lie ahead.

“Our of­fi­cers do not an­tic­i­pate that the level of Scottish Gov­ern­ment fund­ing for the coun­cil will be an­nounced un­til De­cem­ber and it is es­sen­tial that of­fi­cers con­tinue the nec­es­sary prepara­tory work based on the fig­ures they have. De­spite the chal­lenges, West Loth­ian Coun­cil will con­tinue to plan ahead and en­sure that ser­vices are de­liv­ered as well as pos­si­ble, given the fi­nan­cial con­text the coun­cil finds it­self in.”

The coun­cil has also agreed plans to launch a con­sul­ta­tion in Oc­to­ber 2017 and res­i­dents, groups, part­ners and em­ploy­ees will be in­vited to take part.

The con­sul­ta­tion will seek cit­i­zen’s views on Coun­cil Tax lev­els, the coun­cil’s fu­ture pri­or­i­ties and po­ten­tial bud­get mea­sures.

Cllr Fitz­patrick said: “Given the scale of the cuts to our fund­ing over the years it is now more dif­fi­cult to iden­tify sav­ings that do not im­pact upon the ser­vices that com­mu­ni­ties have be­come ac­cus­tomed to.

“How­ever, the es­ti­mated fund­ing gap means a bal­anced bud­get will need to be agreed which de­liv­ers es­sen­tial ser­vices within con­strained fi­nan­cial re­sources. The coun­cil is legally re­quired to bal­ance its bud­get and we will work with our part­ners and our com­mu­ni­ties to iden­tify a way for­ward.”

Union bosses have said they will con­tinue to urge the coun­cil to de­fend jobs and ser­vices from dam­ag­ing cuts, and will be writ­ing to the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive for clar­i­fi­ca­tion on coun­cil plans to con­sult with the public re­gard­ing bud­get sav­ings.

UNI­SON West Loth­ian Branch Sec­re­tary, Andy An­der­son, said: “We have been in­formed that the coun­cil’s own es­ti­mated bud­get short­fall has now in­creased from £65 mil­lion to more than £73 mil­lion.

“The Coun­cil has out­lined its in­ten­tion to un­der­take a public con­sul­ta­tion ex­er­cise be­gin­ning in mid-Oc­to­ber around coun­cil ‘pri­or­i­ties’. We are un­clear as to what this will con­sist of and whether it will be a mean­ing­ful con­sul­ta­tion.

“UNI­SON is committed to en­sur­ing the coun­cil are trans­par­ent around plan­ning how to im­ple­ment these cuts and will fight on our mem­bers’ be­half to pro­tect jobs and con­di­tions.”

Scale of chal­lenges that lie ahead can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated

Coun­cil­lor Lawrence Fitz­patrick

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