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Edinburgh Live
Edinburgh Live
Marie Sharp

East Lothian council leader accuses Scottish Government of taking power from communities

A council leader has accused the Scottish Government of being a "roadblock" to devolution as his administration prepares to increase household costs in East Lothian.

Councillor Norman Hampshire accused the Government of taking control away from communities instead of empowering them.

READ MORE: East Lothian council tax increase proposed in bid to plug £10million funding gap

And the East Lothian Council leader called for the UK Government to give money directly to local authorities in Scotland, by-passing Scottish Ministers.

Speaking as his Labour administration backed a draft budget which proposes increasing council tax by 3% in the coming year Mr Hampshire said the council faced being given its worst settlement in 15 years from the Scottish Government.

Local authorities receive a national settlement grant each year from Scottish Government which covers the majority of costs for services.

At a meeting of the council's cabinet this week its chief finance officer Sarah Fortune said early settlement figures from Scottish Government for core services had been cut by £750,000.

She added that funding for early hours learning and the roll out of 1140 hours of childcare for every household had also been cut by nearly £2million.

Overall the council faces a £12 million increase in costs in the coming year.

Mrs Fortune added that even with a 3% increase on council tax which would generate less than £2 million in additional money, the council needed to take more than £7 million out of its reserves and find £2 million in savings to help balance its books.

Mr Hampshire said without the reserves, which he praised the Labour administration for building up in recent years, council tax would have to be increased by 15% to meet next year's deficit.

And he said the Scottish Government continued to "top slice" council core funding while producing more lists of commitments they were expected to meet.

He said: "Devolution was supposed to devolve power and resources closer to our communities so they can protect the services they need.

"The SNP Scottish Government is now a road block to Devolution as they restrict the resources and take control of services away from their communities.

"If local government and their services have got any chance of surviving we need a new devolution settlement that puts us on an equal level as the devolved administrations.

"This new settlement should allow the UK government the ability to remove a percentage of the Scottish Governments Block Grant and give that directly to the 32 Scottish Local Authorities. "

The final Government funding grant is still to be confirmed and all 32 local authority leaders have signed a joint letter to the First Minister calling for more funding to be handed to councils.

Councillor Stuart Currie, SNP group leader East Lothian Council, accused the Labour administration of continuing to sit on huge reserves.

He said: "This outgoing minority administration has been blaming the Scottish Government since the day they came in to office.

"They have spent the last five years running away from their manifesto commitments and now as they face the electorate in May they continue to tell local residents that they should pay more tax and pay more for basic services as the sit on in excess of £30 million in reserves."

The East Lothian draft budget will now go before full council for approval next month with opposition group leaders invited to put forward amendments for consideration.

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