SHETLAND Islands Council is to receive an extra £367,000 in its block grant from the Scottish Government following an updated calculation of the complex formula that determines local government funding allocations.
In December the draft budget from Scottish finance secretary Derek Mackay included a basic revenue grant of £79.034 million for the SIC.
Adjustments to the allocation of local government funding – which is defined by the vagaries of the funding formula rather than any political manoeuvring – mean the islands council is expected to receive £79.4 million instead, an increase of just under half a per cent.
That is without any changes to the overall value of the local government settlement, with some other councils also gaining but others – including Glasgow and Edinburgh – seeing their allocations fall.
Council leader Cecil Smith said he was pleased the alterations had gone the right way for Shetland in this instance.
“I think anything that’s in addition has to be good news. That’s just a draft, and there’ll maybe be more tweaks, who knows, but I’m really delighted we’ve got that kind of money.”
Conservative list MSP for the Highlands and Islands Jamie Halcro Johnston condemned the Scottish Government, saying the revised figures “show what a mess Derek Mackay and the SNP are making of Scotland’s national and local finances” and castigating the government for cutting council budgets.
The line of attack – he went on to say that if the SNP “can’t get their numbers right on something as important as the draft budget, it really begs the question where else are they making mistakes?” – was described as odd by several non-SNP sources at Holyrood and Lerwick Town Hall.
Liberal Democrats Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, meanwhile, said there were several budget issues he was pursuing, but an accounting adjustment was not one of them.
SNP Highlands and Islands list MSP Maree Todd described it as “quite an astonishing own-goal” by Halcro-Johnston, with her Tory opponent “criticising a decision that will mean Shetland Islands Council will receive an extra £367,000 next year over and above the settlement figure issued in December”.
She added: “Rather than criticise extra funding for Shetland, perhaps he should explain why his Conservative party government are cutting the day-to-day Scottish budget by £200 million next year.”
The Scottish Greens, who are the party most likely to lend their support to the minority SNP government to pass the budget later this month, have been pressing for an improved deal for council funding. That could see the SIC’s allocation in the finalised budget increase further.
Smith, along with environment and transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson, is continuing to press the case for fair ferries funding.
SNP ministers including Mackay and transport minister Humza Yousaf have on several occasions said they accept the principle of fair funding – to narrow a gap of around £7 million between what the SIC receives and what it spends on internal ferries – but that money did not form part of December’s draft budget.
“I am still optimistic,” Smith, who is in Edinburgh for a meeting of council leaders on Friday, told Shetland News, “but we’ll just have to wait and see what comes out of that. I’ve not had anything confirmed to me either way.”