Council faces further £15m cut as Swinney wields axe

Lean times ahead as council leaders told to find �15m in savings.
Lean times ahead as council leaders told to find �15m in savings.
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CITY council leaders must find further savings of at least £15 million from next year’s budget – on top of the £60m they are already looking for – after finance secretary John Swinney slashed their funding by double the expected amount.

“It’s the worst budget for local government since devolution,” said one senior source.

We are going to have to find further significant savings in next year’s budget.

Andrew Burns

The Capital’s ruling Labour-SNP coalition has just completed a consultation on wide-ranging proposals for cuts – including 2000 job losses, increased parking charges and reduced road repairs – in response to the Scottish Government spending squeeze.

But the plans – to save £126m over four years – were drawn up on the expectation of a 1.6 per cent funding cut. And in his budget on Wednesday, Mr Swinney reduced revenue funding for local authorities by at least 3.5 per cent.

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Council leader Andrew Burns said: “We’re awaiting further information to enable us to quantify the precise impact, but we are going to have to find further significant savings in next year’s budget.”

The later-than-usual announcement of how much councils will receive from the Scottish Government means city leaders now have limited time to decide on where the axe must fall. The council is due to set its budget on January 21.

A senior insider said: “The raw data we have suggests we might need to find cuts of as much as 4.5 per cent, but that could come down to 3.5 per cent after various technical adjustments.”

The source said it was unlikely the council would now seek more redundancies than the 2000 it was already looking for, but services were bound to be hit.

“The reduction in funding is way above what was anticipated. It’s basically double what we thought. It’s going to be extremely difficult and it’s inevitably going to have an impact on frontline services.”

The source said some of the proposed savings already under discussion were “pretty unpalatable” and it had been hoped they could be dropped from the final list of budget cuts. But now it would be “doubly difficult” to avoid the harshest cuts because of Mr Swinney’s reductions.

Other Lothian councils are also facing a bigger squeeze on spending.

East Lothian Council leader Willie Innes: “At this stage the council is still exploring the finer detail of what the settlement package means for East Lothian.

“It is however clear this is a very harsh and unfair settlement that will have a damaging impact upon the council’s ability to maintain the services currently relied upon by our communities.”

He said he strongly endorsed comments by the Cosla president that the package for Scottish local government was “totally unacceptable”.

Midlothian Council said it was previously looking at a projected shortfall of £1.85m, but now faced an even tighter budget than expected and would have to make more cuts.

A spokeswoman said: “We are still working through the details of the announcements and how they impact on Midlothian, though initial assessment is that we are likely to have a significantly larger budget gap to address than previously reported.”

The Scottish Government said Mr Swinney had allocated an extra £250m for councils for social care and £88m to maintain teacher numbers.

In his budget speech he said he fully understood the pressures on council budgets.

And the finance secretary added: “We will consult with local government over the terms and implementation of the finance settlement.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com