Council sets record straight over CoSLA budget setting meeting

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Published Date: 

12 Jan 2011 (All day)

Argyll and Bute Council has set the record straight over its involvements in the meeting of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA), held on 19 November 2010, at which council’s budget settlements were discussed.

Council leader Dick Walsh attended the meeting, along with Sally Loudon, chief executive and Alison Hay, in her capacity as environment spokesperson for CoSLA.

A recent media report questioned the responsibility of Councillor Walsh and Sally Loudon in relation to discussions around the budget settlement which took place at this meeting.

The council has confirmed that papers presented at the CoSLA meeting did not give any indication that the settlement for Argyll and Bute would be significantly below the national average.

In addition, the two areas of funding which contain the majority of Argyll and Bute Council’s reduction – the Special Island Needs Allowance and the Supporting People Allocation – were not highlighted in the CoSLA papers. 

Those present would not have been able to identify a reduction of allowance in those particular areas from the papers issued on 19 November. The impact of these reductions was not indicated until budget settlement papers were issued.

It has since become clear that Argyll and Bute Council faces a significant variation in funding for these two areas: Special Islands Needs Allowance (SINA) - a reduction of just under £0.4 million and supporting people allowance - a reduction of £5.6 million. The total reduction in Argyll and Bute Council’s grant is £11.429 million.

The SINA reduction is a result of the Scottish Government no longer classifying Seil as an island, because it has a road bridge – even though this bridge and Seil’s island status has existed for hundreds of years.

Other councils have also experienced a higher-than-expected reduction in their Supporting People Allocation and CoSLA is raising this with the Scottish Government.

In the past, where wild variations in funding have emerged for councils the Scottish Government has advised CoSLA in advance, so these could be discussed with council leaders and a mitigation strategy agreed. On this occasion there was no indication from either the government or CoSLA that the settlement would include any such variation.

The publication of the settlement figures in mid December gives the council only eight weeks to identify an additional £6 million in savings, ahead of its February deadline for budget setting.

Argyll and Bute Council’s plans its finances over a short and long term horizon. The one year settlement presented by the Scottish Government, instead of the usual three-year settlement, makes it even more difficult for the council to make long term plans.

Dick Walsh has already raised his concerns over the settlement with John Swinney, in a letter dated 21 December 2010. Councillor Walsh also wrote on 7 October, raising the impact of GAE on the council’s budget with the cabinet secretary. Councillor Walsh said:

"If we received an average reduction in our budget for local government then we were looking at unpalatable cuts within services. Because our budget cuts are double the national average we now have to look at devastating cuts. I wrote to the cabinet secretary, John Swinney, a number of weeks ago to discuss with him the impact of the Scottish government settlement will have on our communities. I am awaiting a response and would hope following these discussions I will be in a position to report that our budget situation has improved and these more devastating cuts won’t need to be made.”