By-election delays East Lothian Council’s draft budget

Draft budget proposals due to be published in the next few weeks will now be delayed until after polling stations close at a council by-election.

By Marie Sharp
Friday, 17th December 2021, 12:30 pm

East Lothian Council’s Labour administration had been due to hold a Cabinet meeting on January 18 to approve its draft budget for the year ahead.

However it has been confirmed the meeting has now been moved back a week and the papers, which are normally released to the public seven days before a meeting will not be made public until a few days before it.

A council spokesperson said the decision to delay publication had been taken on officers’ advice to avoid breaching strict pre-election rules.

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The budget proposals were to be aired at John Muir House.

SNP group leader Councillor Stuart Currie has called on the Labour group to release their draft budget plan ahead of the election warning people will ask “what they are trying to hide”.

His claims have been dismissed by council leader Norman Hampshire who said the budget proposals, if released early, would only boost Labour’s standing in the election.

Councillor Currie said: “It’s disappointing that the Labour draft budget will not be published as in previous years.

“Given multi million pound spending commitments were made at the recent council meeting by Labour I’m calling on them to publish their budget now – they can do that as a group without any delay. Labour clearly know what will be in their budget and if they fail to make that public then folk will rightly ask what do they have to hide.”

During a full meeting of East Lothian Council on Tuesday this week council leader Norman Hampshire pledged to freeze council rent for the coming year and told elected members that he would try and freeze council tax “as much as the budget allows”.

And he insisted the proposals in the budget for the coming year would reflect his commitment.

Councillor Hampshire said: “I can assure you that I wanted to produce our draft budget before the by-election because I was going to show the people of East Lothian that we were proposing to freeze their rents and what we were doing with their council tax but I was told by the chief executive and legal services that could be challenged as unfair publicity for the Labour Party two days before the election so they moved the meeting.

“The Scottish Government has again cut £100m for local government core funding and that’s £2m from East Lothian but because people are struggling with energy, fuel and other price increases we will freeze rents and do all we can not to increase council tax, I can’t be more open than that at this stage of the Budget process.

“Are the SNP even going to produce a budget this year because they normally don’t bother.”

The draft budget is produced annually by the administration working with council officers and is then open for opposition councillors to come forward with proposed amendments and challenges or produce an alternative budget before a final draft is produced for approval.

A council spokesperson said: “The cabinet meeting was postponed on the advice of officers to ensure the draft budget was not published during the pre-election period, during which there are particular restrictions in place.”

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