COSLA provides case for optimism in the face of service cuts

Kirsty Flanagan.

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Cautious hope has been expressed that further Scottish Government funding may mean less service cuts at Argyll and Bute Council.

The authority’s leader, Councillor Aileen Morton, is seeking information on the impact a push by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) for an increase in council grants by inflation plus three per cent would make.

Head of strategic finance Kirsty Flanagan said the council could be left in a surplus position if that was to happen.

She said the authority could net an extra £9 million based on the mid-range forecast budget scenario, but was unsure of whether the extra funding would happen to the fullest extent.

COSLA intimated at its gathering in St Andrews on Friday October 11 that it would request to Holyrood that budgets have a minimum uplift of inflation plus three per cent.

A minute from that meeting read: ‘This ask will therefore be pursued vigorously in the negotiations with the Scottish Government.’

Councillor Morton asked the question at the meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee six days later.

She said: ‘Leaders have unanimously agreed that they have a budget ask of the Scottish Government that budgets have a minimum rate of inflation plus three per cent.

‘It is a complicated question, but what kind of difference would that make to the gap we are facing in our budget?’

Ms Flanagan replied: ‘Our funding from the Scottish Government amounts to £193million. On a crude basis, if there were no other calculations, and bearing in mind my mid-range scenario, there would be a swing of over £9million.

‘Based on the current budget outlook, it could put us in a surplus position. However, that is with a three per cent increase.

‘There are a number of things we would need to consider as to whether that would actually happen here.

‘There are a couple of elements which could negatively impact on us, although I am not sure of the value of them.

‘If we did get additional funding, we need to be mindful that it may not all be direct funding. If there was an increase of three per cent, it may well come with conditions.

‘An extra three per cent could make £9million worth of difference, but it is very difficult to identify what the impact would be in Argyll and Bute.’

Councillor Morton then said: ‘There are a number of options which are unpalatable, and still a gap to be identified, but we have to lobby the Scottish Government for funding to protect these services. But we must also agree a balanced budget in February.’

It was agreed to recommend to the full council later that day that the request by COSLA to the Scottish Government should be endorsed.