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Council / Coutts backs COSLA call for money handover

SHETLAND Islands Council leader Steven Coutts has said it is an “untenable position” for the Scottish Government to hold on to £155 million in cash that should be passed immediately to local authorities.

The money – so called “Barnett consequentials” – was announced at the same time as £1.6 billion that has been passed on by the UK Government to English councils to help alleviate coronavirus associated costs.

Coutts said it had been agreed at a video meeting of council leaders yesterday (Friday) to press the Scottish Government to fork out the cash.

COSLA wrote to the Scottish Government when the money was announced, but Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes said councils should dip into their reserves until their case for needing money was proved.

Coutts said that the consequentials would not pay for all the coronavirus related costs to councils. These had included loss of income from council buildings and various earners as diverse as the Scord Quarry and ferry fares and additional costs like IT licensing.

He said: “The main issue is that in comparison to the UK government the Scottish Government have held on to that money and at the moment there’s no clarity on why.

SIC political leader Steven Coutts.SIC leader Steven Coutts. Photo: Shetland News

“They rely very heavily on local government to provide front line services to the community and it is really an untenable situation to take, not to hand over the money that’s needed.”

Following the council leaders’ meeting COSLA’s resources spokesperson councillor Gail Macgregor said: “Council Leaders were clear today that the reaction of councils to the Covid-19 epidemic, ensuring essential services are secured, and that our most vulnerable people are protected has been a remarkable effort and as such the £155 million of consequentials should be passed to Local Government immediately.”

Local government, with its public and third sector partners and volunteers, was at the vanguard of protecting communities during the pandemic, she added.

“Councils are working hard to keep a huge range of essential services running to meet the needs of communities and to be responsive locally. But the bottom line is that protecting people and providing services costs money.

“That is why, when the £1.6 billion of funding was announced by the UK Government for councils in England over two weeks ago, we immediately wrote to the Scottish Government in relation to the £155million of consequentials for Scottish councils. I will continue to keep discussions going with Kate Forbes on this issue.

“Whilst we fully appreciate the pressure facing the Cabinet at this time, Councils are facing an extremely challenging situation on the ground, with significant additional costs being incurred on a daily basis, as well as massive losses of income as a result of the lock down. The response from Scottish Government so far does nothing to alleviate the collective concerns of Scottish Local Government and we call on the consequentials to be passed to Local Government immediately,” said Macgregor.

Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said: “This is a quite remarkable way for the Finance Secretary to respond to the genuine concerns of Scotland’s councils.

“Kate Forbes is either completely unaware or totally ambivalent to the dire financial situation local authorities across my region face.

“Many have very little left in the way of reserves after years of SNP pressure on council budgets.

“The UK Government has provided £155 million of cash for local authorities in Scotland. But instead of simply passing that on to Scotland’s local councils, it looks like some of it will be diverted into the Scottish Government’s coffers.

“Yet again, communities across the Highlands and Islands will miss out because funding intended for their local councils will be held back by ministers in Edinburgh”.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021