Falkirk Council chiefs ‘deflated’ by Holyrood cash which widens budget gap

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Falkirk Council’s funding package from the Scottish Government has effectively increased the local authority’s projected £18 million budget gap to well over £20 million.

While council leader Cecil Meiklejohn tried to stay upbeat, stating it was just a draft budget subject to change and the council still had “a number of irons in the fire”, opposition chief Dennis Goldie had fears the council would actually cease to exist in the future and regional authorities would be introduced.

When finance secretary Derek Mackay announced his draft budget last Wednesday he stated local authorities had received a £197.5 million increase for day to day spending on essential public services in 2019-20, alongside a £207.6 million increase on their capital spending budget.

From a total Scottish Government funding package of £11.1 billion, Falkirk’s allocation for 2019/20 totalled £305 million, with £283 million going to the revenue budget and £22 million to fund capital projects, while a council tax increase of three per cent will bring a £2 million boost, bringing the total settlement to a potential £307 million.

Falkirk Conservative Group leader Malcolm Nicol said: “The previous figure requiring £18 million of cuts has now been raised to over £20 million. The cabinet secretary has presented a draft budget in which he may see an increase for councils but Falkirk Council officers confirm we are now facing a significant reduction to core local government funding.

“In Falkirk’s case this is £7.148 million and his decision has certainly done nothing to help our dire financial situation. Officers have to find further cuts on top of those already announced and this reinforces concerns over the unprecedented nature of the cuts being proposed by the SNP administration.”

Last year the council received a “more favourable than expected” Scottish Government financial settlement.

From a total funding of £10.5 billion in 2018/19, Falkirk Council received a provisional revenue allocation of £266 which – although a cash reduction of £3.7 million on the previous year – was actually better than anticipated.

Referring to this year’s settlement, Councillor Meiklejohn said: “The settlement figure to date is disappointing, but there are a number of irons in the fire we expect will result in an improvement before we get to reach budget day, although the budget itself is, without doubt the most challenging we have had to face up to.

“Rest assured we will be lobbying hard to get the best output for the people of Falkirk.”

Councillor Goldie said: “Officers have been making projections as they go throughout the year. The projections they made a week ago are now £8 million worse off.

“It’s back to the drawing board – I have never seen officers so deflated. Everyone recognises things are difficult, but at the same time we have got to provide services.

“The cupboard’s bare. We were looking at an £18 million gap before and it’s more than that now. Certainly we, in the Labour Group, stand by the promise we made to ensure services are not cut and we don’t want any forced redundancies.

“There are suggestions of where savings can come – making better use of buildings and technology – but nothing at all comes near these figures we have now. Usually the Greens come in with extra money, but I don’t think that is going to happen this time.

“My fear is sooner or later they are going to do away with Falkirk Council and go back to regional councils.

“What’s it going to be like next year? There should always be a commitment by the Scottish Government to the health service and it should be the same with the police – but there doesn’t seem to be that same commitment to local councils.”