As it emerged that East Lothian Council is facing a potential overspend of over £7 million due to the Covid-19 crisis, the Scottish Conservative Group has called on SNP Ministers to fully fund local services to avoid severe cuts.
The call came during a meeting of East Lothian Council at which Labour and SNP councillors united to press Westminster for the SNP Government to be given more power to increase debt.
Conservative Group Leader Lachlan Bruce said: “As today’s financial update shows, urgent answers are needed to prevent core services being put in jeopardy. Following years of chronic under-funding by the Scottish Government, Covid-19 has pushed us to the edge. We need urgent answers - and we need significant funding from the Scottish Government - if we are avoid huge cuts to frontline services which will have a long lasting and damaging impact.”
The Scottish Conservative Councillors said they would support moves to press Scottish Ministers to hand over money allocated by Westminster for the Covid-19 relief effort and will now directly engage the First Minister on the issue.
But they rejected an amended Labour-SNP motion which called for the Scottish Government to be given more power to increase debt.
Craig Hoy, the Scottish Parliamentary Candidate for East Lothian, said: “East Lothian is now facing a perfect storm, with severe cuts looming which could amount to £7.5 million unless ministers act. Only the SNP Government will be able explain why Finance Secretary Kate Forbes refuses to properly fund East Lothian Council. Rather than Labour kowtowing to the SNP by calling for the Scottish Government to be given more borrowing powers, we should be focussing our efforts on demanding the missing millions the Scottish Government has failed to pass on to councils.”
The Conservative Group will now write to the First Minister and the Scottish Finance Secretary demanding urgent action to ensure public services in East Lothian are fully funded in line with commitments given by ministers at the outset of the Covid-19 crisis.
This comes as a COSLA report found that the Scottish Government has failed to pass on £90 million in Barnett Consequentials from the UK Government which should have already been allocated to Scottish local authorities.
This forms part of the £6.5 billion given to the Scottish Government via Barnett Consquentials and does not include the billions more provide to support Scotland through Covid-19 via the Furlough Scheme, Eat Out to Help Out and other support mechanisms.
Councillor Bruce added: “Rather than backing increased borrowing powers why doesn’t the East Lothian Labour administration focus on the real issue at hand - the SNP’s repeated failure to give Scottish councils the money they are due.”