Council’s financial worries

Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam
Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam

The leader of Scottish Borders Council, Shona Haslam, has described the council’s financial position as “unsustainable” in a letter to the Scottish Government.

Since 2013 the council has been forced to make over £40m of savings and writing to Finance Secretary Derek MacKay, Ms Haslam said: “We are now at the point where the financial sustainability of the council is being threatened.”

After receiving the local government settlement figure from the Scottish Government just before Christmas council officers told SBC councillors that reductions in the level of government grant would total 2.3% next year, which means that resources available to the council would fall by £4.604m when compared to resources available in 2018/19.

Ring fencing of certain services, increased demands on resources, pressures of public sector pay rises, the higher than average elderly population in the region, plus its rural nature are all putting such a strain on the local authority that they are now being forced into having to cut important but not legally required services such as public toilet provision and subsidised transport.

Ms Haslam also asked that the Scottish Government consider giving councils multi-year settlements to allow them to plan and invest in public services on a longer term basis.

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Ms Haslam said: “The financial settlement last year was challenging and as a council we have already had to make some decisions which have, understandably, not proved popular with residents.

“Some services we are legally required to deliver as a council, but we are now in the situation of having to severely cut some important but not mandatory services in order to balance the books.

“Given that many Borderers are paying more in council tax this year, I can understand the frustration with services being reduced. The last thing I want to do is to move to three weekly bin collections or get rid of vital bus routes, but that is the stark reality of where we are thanks to these cuts from the SNP. With this financial settlement, no amount of efficiency savings will balance the books. We are quite simply being asked to do much more, with much less funding.

“This is all the more frustrating given that the Scottish Government has more money to spend this year, thanks to funding decisions by the UK Government.

“My message to the Finance Secretary is clear, we need more support from Holyrood, not less.”

COSLA (The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) has also criticised the Scottish Government’s local authority budget proposals and spokeswoman, Councillor Gail Macgregor, said: “This is a severe cut to the core budget that provides the vast majority of our essential services. This is bad news for communities - the impact on jobs and services is significant.

“The budget does not recognise our role as an employer, procurer and deliverer of essential services. If this settlement is not changed it will mean substantial job losses where local government is the main employer. I fear we are running towards a cliff edge.”

Borders MP John Lamont (Conservative) warned at the start of the year that the funding settlement for local authorities is going to require SBC to increase council tax (up 3%), fees and charges and introduce a significant programme of cost reductions to balance the budget and protect core services.