Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has said that he recognises the scale of the financial challenge facing West Dunbartonshire Council.
Responding to a letter from the leader of WDC, Councillor Martin Rooney, John Swinney said West Dunbartonshire’s £227m funding package represented a 6.3 percent increase from the 2021-22 figure.
However, Councillor Rooney labelled the response “smoke and mirrors” as he accused Holyrood of imposing austerity on the locality.
West Dunbartonshire Council is facing its biggest ever budget gap – with more than £20m needing to be cut in order to set a balanced budget by March.
When the previous SNP administration left office in May, they left a gap of £13.8m in the 2023/24 budget.
An explosion in the cost of living has since increased this to over £20m.
Councils are legally required to set a balanced budget before March 31.
At the full council meeting in December, WDC’s Labour administration took some early steps to free-up cash.
This resulted in £4m of cuts being voted through, but came with warning that – without an inflationary increase from the Scottish Government – further reductions remained inevitable.
After writing to the Deputy First Minister labelling the cuts ‘scandalous,’ Councillor Rooney last week received a response.
In it, Mr Swinney said: “I can confirm that the Scottish Government recognise the financial challenges that local government are facing and that local authorities and their employees play a crucial role in our communities.
“In the most challenging budget settlement since devolution, the Scottish Government are providing over £13.2 billion in the 2023-24 Local Government Settlement.
“Following the flat-cash position set out in the Resource Spending Review, we have listened to councils and are now increasing the resources available to local government next year by over £570million.
“In 2023-24, West Dunbartonshire Council will receive £227million to fund local services, which equates to an extra £13.5million to support vital day-to-day services or an additional 6.3 percent compared to 2021-22.
“In addition all councils will receive their fair share of the currently undistributed sum of £225million.”
Mr Swinney concludes: “I can confirm that the Scottish Government will continue to press the UK Government for urgent additional funding for our joint priorities and would welcome support from COSLA and individual local authorities.
“I can also assure you that the Scottish Government is committed to working in partnership with local government to ensure that the people of Scotland continue to receive the high-quality public services that they deserve.”
Hitting back, Councillor Rooney said: “Unfortunately, it’s just the usual smoke and mirrors from the Scottish Government. The £570m was already factored in and it is funding for Scottish Government priority initiatives and does not cover the council’s core services.
“It is interesting that when they refer to what the Scottish Government gets from Westminster they like to refer to a real-terms cut taking account of inflation, but when looking at local government they always compare cash.
“We know from COSLA that councils receive roughly the same for core budget as did in 2013/14 which represents a significant cut in our core funding over a decade.
“In essence, the Scottish Government is imposing austerity on West Dunbartonshire Council instead of giving us an inflationary uplift in our funding.
“It looks highly unlikely that they will reverse their decision during the Scottish Parliament budget process.”