Funding row at Falkirk Council after Audit Scotland report

Councillor Robert Bissett.Councillor Robert Bissett.
Councillor Robert Bissett.
The Labour group on Falkirk Council says that recent figures from Audit Scotland show that council funding has been cut “not to the bone, but to the marrow in the bone and we cannot go on like this”.

While funding from the UK government to Scotland has been cut, Councillor Robert Bissett, leader of the Labour group, has accused the Scottish Government of  “multiplying the Westminster cuts to councils by four and in some cases by seven”.

Councillor Bissett made his comments after a report from Audit Scotland highlighted that most local authorities in Scotland are having to draw on their reserves to fund essential services.

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The report says that since 2013/14 councils have seen cuts of 7.6 per cent in real terms.

Cllr Bissett said: “That equates for Falkirk Council, £150 million over the past 10 years, and over the next five years we will see cuts of £76 million, and over this 15 year period over  600 jobs lost.”

With an expected cut for 2020/21 of £20 million, he said: “This vandalism of local government budgets is unacceptable and it is time all councils demanded that the Scottish Government fully fund councils to allow them to provide the services the public need.

“The real story is how these cuts affect people: the granny whose family has moved away and loses the monthly lunch club that was her only contact with the outside world; the teenager hanging around on a street corner, getting into bother, either as victim or culprit, because the local youth club has gone; the ladies whose bingo/friendship  nights have ended as their community centre has closed; roads not being repaired or “risk assessed” and repaired once the damage worsens; and fewer roads gritted.”

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But the SNP leader of Falkirk Council says the figures used by the Labour group are misleading, and that the people responsible for the cuts are successive Westminster Tory governments.

Cecil Meiklejohn said: “It is very easy for Labour party, as an ineffectual opposition, to quote from the Audit Scotland report without context, thus misrepresenting the facts of where the budget reductions originate from, the Tory UK Government.

“The figures quoted by Labour for Local Government do not take into account the additional funding provided by Scottish Government to deliver on key policy initiatives such as education, social care, criminal justice and  housing, which I do not believe anyone could disagree with.

“However, what they have not stated is areas where they would take funding from to give to local government – after all it stands to rights that if the over all budget is decreasing you have to cut your cloth accordingly.”

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Councillor Bissett agreed that a lot of funding to councils had been ring-fenced for Scottish Government projects.

But, he added: “Nicola Sturgeon seems to think it’s okay to ring-fence funding for local councils though as long as it suits her national objectives.”

The row over the Audit Scotland figures comes as the council gears up to set its budget for the year ahead.

Councillor Bissett said: “To just accept these cuts without challenge is to be complicit in them and we in the Labour Group will be challenging and trying our hardest to bring forward a budget mitigating some of the SNP cuts where we can, even if that means using reserves, for  to do nothing is just not serving the public.”

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Councillor Meiklejohn said: “The Scottish Government spending choices are made in the context of a continued reduction in the discretionary block grant  received from the UK Government.

“Between 2010-11 and 2019-20 the Scottish block grant will have fallen by £2.6 billion in real terms and over the next two years alone we expect to face real terms cuts of over £500 million in the block grant we receive for day-to-day spending, all of which has to be taken in to the context of Brexit, the impact of which  will be significant for Scotland.”