The leader of West Dunbartonshire Council has written to MSPs demanding more cash for the local authority, as he branded the funding package from Holyrood ‘scandalous’.
In his letter, Labour’s Martin Rooney says that the package represents a cut of £272,000 from WDC’s core budget – with the local authority already facing its biggest ever budget gap, more than £20m.
The Lomond member highlighted West Dunbartonshire’s high level of deprivation and warned that council staff are struggling to find options to close the budget gap.
He goes on to slam Holyrood for ‘imposing this level of austerity on my council area’.
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 and in December it was agreed that West Dunbartonshire’s budget meeting would take place on March 1.
At the full council meeting in December, WDC’s Labour administration took some early actions to help increase revenue and reduce cost.
This resulted in £4m of cuts being voted through, but came with warning that – without a inflationary increase from the Scottish Government – further reductions remained inevitable.
Councillor Rooney, who sent his letter to Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie, Clydebank’s MSP Marie McNair and the area’s seven list MSPs, said: “It’s absolutely unbelievable that the Scottish Government will see an increase of 6.2 per cent in its budget.
“It is raising additional income tax, and has already had extra resources from the UK Government to help with the cost-of-living crisis but has still taken the indefensible decision to cut funding to the people who live in West Dunbartonshire.
“I want to know what they have done with our missing millions.
“As over 80 percent of our funding comes directly from the Scottish Government this will have a significant detrimental impact on local services and jobs. This is an absolute scandal and completely ignores the levels of deprivation in our area.
“It’s also a slap in the face to local residents who were one of just four local authorities that backed independence, so while local people said yes, when the SNP asked them to, when we need funding for local services the answer from the SNP Scottish Government is a resounding no.”
Councillor Rooney also took aim at Clydebank MSP Marie McNair, who served as a councillor in the previous SNP administration running WDC.
He added: “I am confident that Jackie Baillie and the other MSPs will highlight our plight, but my fear is that the MSP in Clydebank will simply tow the party line rather than fight for a better deal for local people.
“As one of the former councillors in the administration that left the council with the £13.8m budget gap, Ms McNair has a direct responsibility to try and fix this for the people she represents.”
Ms McNair, who represents Clydebank and Milngavie, responded, accusing Councillor Rooney of ‘juvenile politics’.
She said: “This is juvenile politics from Councillor Rooney. He seeks only to score political points at a time when all of us should be taking the serious approach that the budget challenges facing West Dunbartonshire deserve.
“He also seeks to blame the last council budget of the SNP administration when it is well documented that the Labour budget that year, if passed, would have made the financial position of the council more difficult. I am giving this situation the priority it deserves.
“I have discussed the budget situation with the council’s chief executive and requested an up to date briefing.
“I have also written to John Swinney the Deputy First Minster and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, to highlight the position West Dunbartonshire is facing and expressing my concern about the potential impact on local services.
“With other MSPs I will be questioning the Cabinet Secretary for local government on the financial settlement to Scottish Councils.
“There is significant additional pressure on the Council from many areas like the rocketing inflation, Covid recovery and historical aspects.
“I will work hard to get a fair deal from the Scottish Government.
“This is hampered by the inadequate budget settlement from Westminster that is lower in real terms than it was in 2021. It fails to make any compensation for their crashing of the economy and shows their lack of support for public services.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “This is the most challenging budget since devolution.
“Nevertheless, funding sustainable public services is a priority in the coming financial year and the 2023-24 Local Government Settlement provides more than £13.2billion for councils.
“This represents a cash increase of over £570m or 4.5 percent, which is a real terms increase of £160.6m or 1.3 percent.”