Midlothian Council leader warns of serious financial challenges

Midlothian Council leader Derek Milligan is warning of serious financial challenges ahead thanks to a Scottish Government budget that is “a bad deal for communities”.

Stock photo.
Stock photo.

Speaking as the cross party working group of councillors faces a budget gap of £13.5 million for the year ahead, Cllr Milligan said: “We’re disappointed and frustrated that once again local councils’ pleas for a fair settlement to help people live well locally have been ignored and that our own calls for funding to support a growing population have not been acted on by Government.

“The core settlement, which represents a cut of £100 million across Scotland even before pressures like inflation are taken into account, will be felt most keenly by those who can least afford it – our communities and our workers.

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“The settlement published on December 20 means we now estimate that we are a further £6 million worse off than those already challenging budget predictions. If we were to pass that on to our residents that figure alone would be the equivalent of a 10.3 per cent Council Tax increase.”

Cllr Milligan was particularly concerned with the drop in government funding for the 1,140 hours of early learning and childcare (ELC) for all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds.

He said: “The ELC funding for Midlothian has been cut by £1.5 million. While part of this will be a cut over three years, it still begs the question of how on earth are we supposed to give our children, many of whom are living in areas of high deprivation, the best start in life without funding to provide high quality early learning?”

He added: “As a council in the fastest growing local authority area in Scotland this settlement gives us nothing to support growth , to sustain essential services or support recovery from Covid in the coming years.

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“These cuts in funding by Scottish Government are affecting vulnerable people and indeed our workforce the hardest so we need to continue to fight for a fairer settlement rather than let local people face the consequences of devastating cuts to essential services.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Despite continued economic uncertainty facing us all due to the pandemic, we are treating councils fairly and providing a real terms increase of over five per cent to local authority budgets for the coming year – despite cuts to Scotland’s overall budget by the UK Government.

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“The 2022-23 Scottish Budget provides local government revenue funding for Midlothian Council amounting to £190.3 million, which represents a cash increase of £7.2 million or 3.9 per cent. In addition, the council will receive its fair share of a further £487.9 million which is currently undistributed.

“The Scottish Fiscal Commission has highlighted the overall 2022-23 Scottish Budget is 2.6 per cent lower than this year’s in cash terms and 5.2 per cent lower after accounting for inflation because of reduced Covid-19 funding and falling capital funding from the UK Government.”