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Edinburgh Live
Edinburgh Live
Marie Sharp

East Lothian Council financial pressures pose 'highest risk ever'

The current financial pressures facing East Lothian Council pose the highest risk the local authority has ever faced, an emergency meeting heard today.

A £2 million underpayment in funding from Scottish Government to cover a staff pay increase and £1.2million in additional energy costs for council buildings are just a couple of the reasons it now faces an additional £5 million budget gap this year.

In an unusual move the local authority's senior team called a special council meeting of politicians to lay out additional measures needed to try and deal with spiralling costs.

READ MORE: East Lothian parking plans could see North Berwick residents pay £40 for permits

Councillors were told that the scale of the risk to public services was so great it was felt the financial report could not wait until a scheduled meeting next month.

Executive director of finance Sarah Fortune told the meeting: "It is now very clear the scale of financial pressure has reached a level we simply cannot sustain."

A report outlining a range of additional measures to try and mitigate for the extra funding gap, included a freeze on recruitment for all but the absolute essential vacancies within the council and review of all capital projects.

It was proposed projects without any financial commitment could be suspended while a move to introduce a temperature limit in all public buildings of 18 degrees maximum were also put forward.

Some buildings could be mothballed to save money and some projects, which allow funds to be carried forward from one financial year to the other could see the carry through suspended.

Ms Fortune told the meeting the financial risk level to the council was at a 'critical' level, adding "it is the highest risk we have ever reported."

And she pointed to the decision by Scottish Government not to fully fund a pay rise agreed nationally for workers, despite previous understanding it would be, as a major contributor to the problems.

She said: "This unfunded pay burden is very difficult and challenging, which will ultimately have a corresponding impact on services."

She acknowledged much of the financial pressures were outwith local control pointing to the rise in inflation, energy prices and costs as adding to the issues facing the council.

Councillors agreed the situation facing the council was "grim" and unanimously approved the new measures and a call for council leader Norman Hampshire to write to both the UK and Scottish Government setting out the crisis facing the local authority.

Councillor Cher Cassini called for additional powers to be given to local authorities, which might allow them to charge Air BnB owners council tax, while fellow SNP councillor Lee-Anne Menzies pointed to a review of licensing fees to see if more could be done.

Ms Fortune assured councillors discussions about how local authorities could address the financial holes they face were "live" and ongoing as solutions were sought.

Councillor Hampshire said: "Today is about trying to find solutions to help us get over the financial problems we have.

"We have a duty to make the public aware just how difficult a financial position this council is in.

"Some of the decisions we will have to make will not be popular with all our constituents but our number one priority is to protect the jobs and services we deliver."


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