Council budget shortfall widens
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